Thursday, October 13, 2011

Risotto Mexicana (Or, What to Do When MarxFoods Sends Mystery Samples)

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to enjoy little perks of being a blogger who likes food. I've had a chance to review grass-raised beef from Hearst Ranch and to try out Palm Leaf Plates on a picnic date with BHE.

So you can imagine how big my eyes grew when MarxFoods announced that it would send a box of mystery ingredients to a set of volunteer bloggers, with the challenge of coming up with a recipe based on the contents of mystery package.

Gauntlet thrown, MarxFoods!

My mystery box arrived while I was on my girl-cation. Thankfully, BHE kept it out of Donald's reach. I opened it as soon as I came home and here's what I found:
*Dried Pasilla Negro Chilies
*Dried Lobster Mushrooms
*Diced New Mexico Chilies
*Smoke Sea Salt
*Whole Wheat Couscous

My original idea was to make a dish that consisted of a couscous crust with sauteed lobster mushrooms seasoned with the sea salt and maybe a hint of the diced chilies. But, I decided I wanted something a little heartier.



And then it hit me: Rice! Or, risotto, rather. It's quickly becoming that time of year when my racing needs (i.e., carbs and lots of them) converge with cooler temperatures. I start craving things both warm AND filling.

So risotto it was! But then I began to wonder: what kind of risotto? Most of the dishes I've had tend to be cheesy/creamy with spring veggies in them (think parmesean and asparagus). This dish would clearly need a spicier finish. Maybe something with mushrooms?

I began thumbing through past recipes looking for inspiration. How could I incorporate the pasilla chile without overwhelming the dish? Spice is one thing - but mind-numbing heat is quite another.

Help came in the form of a soup recipe from Rick Bayless, who likes to blend chilies with tomatoes in some of his recipes.


And so combining this little trick with some risotto-making basics, I came up with my Risotto Mexicana. Hearty and smokey, with a little heat to help you through the increasingly cooler nights.

Now, I am aware that the peeps over at Serious Eats just did a big piece on making the perfect risotto. It involves rinsing the rise with the stock and then preserving the stock for later use...all of which I did not do here. (In my defense, the article came out like 2 days after I had finalized my dish.)

That said, if you want to take the longer route, I'll provide directions for that, too. As for me, well, my evenings can get a little hectic, so I use the quick n' easy routine when necessary.

The dish was a hit and BHE went back for thirds, which is always a good review in our house. Let me know how it works out for you!

And, as always, ENJOY!

Risotto Mexicana


1 medium to large dried pasilla negro chile (stem and seeds removed)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes with juice
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2oz dried lobster mushrooms
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups arborio rice
1 medium onion (or 3 shallots), diced
1/4 tsp Diced New Mexico chilies
1/4 tsp smoked sea salt
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup mild cheddar cheese or queso fresco (optional)
fresh cilantro to garnish

Reconstitute the mushrooms by placing them in a bowl (preferably glass) and covering them with boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are tender. Strain and dice the mushrooms, but reserve 1 cup of the water for the risotto.


Pour the tomatoes and its juice into a blender. Break up the pasilla chile into small pieces and then add it to tomatoes.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over med-high heat in a large pan or skillet. Add the garlic, diced chilies and HALF of the diced onion. Stir frequently, sauteing for about 5 -7 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the garlic golden. (Do NOT burn the garlic.) Add this mixture to the tomato blend and process until smooth.

Place a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and remaining tbsp of olive oil. Once the foam has subsided, add the diced mushrooms and saute them for 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms (keeping the butter and olive oil in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining dice onion and continue sauteing for another 3-4 minutes. (Add an extra tsp of olive oil if the pan is a little dry after removing the mushrooms.)

**ADVANCED RISOTTO PREP 101 (via Serious Eats)* "Place the rice into a bowl and pouring the chicken or veggie broth directly on top. Agitated the rice to release all of the starch, then poured it through a fine mesh strainer, reserving the starchy, cloudy broth on the side."**
Add the rice to the onion mixture and cook for 1 more minute, stirring frequently until the grains are a nice golden brown.

**EASY RISOTTO COOKING METHOD** Add the blended tomato mixture to the pan with the rice. Add the sea salt, reserved liquid (from the mushrooms) and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Take out the dish, add the mushrooms and (if you're using it) the cheese. Stir to combine. Recover and bake the dish another 10 - 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Season with additional New Mexico chilies if desired. Serve with a cilantro garnish.

**NOT-SO-EASY RISOTTO COOKING METHOD (again, via Serious Eats)* Add the blended tomato mixture to the pan with the rice. Add the sea salt, reserved liquid, and 2 cups of the reserved broth (mix the broth before adding to distribute the starch). Increase the heat to high and cook until simmering. Stir the rice once, cover, and reduce the heat to low.

Cook rice for 10 minutes. Stir once, shake pan gently to redistribute rice, cover, and continue cooking until liquid is mostly absorbed and rice is tender with just a faint bite, about 10 minutes longer.

Remove lid and add final cup of broth and the mushrooms. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring and shaking rice constantly until thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add the cheese (if using) and season with additional New Mexico chilies (if desired) and a cilantro garnish.**

It's a damn tasty dish, if I do say so myself! Enjoy!

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