We are falling quickly into Fall! I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable). Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame! Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings. Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time. Ahem. I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week. Seriously, I am still dreaming about it. I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker. My crockpot is my saving grace these days. I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week. Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call. And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic. We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.
That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job! Really, its more like an uber-promotion. I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee! Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job! Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything! Whoa. My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.
Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever! Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time. I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought. But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat. M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone. They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.
In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup. I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before. When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil. Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge. This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle. The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed. A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting. The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!
Tomato Basil Soup
Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.
- 1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
- 2 c. tomato juice
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
- about 10 basil leaves
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 4 Tbsp. butter
Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency. I like a slightly chunky soup. If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less! The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender. Do the soup in multiple portions if needed. Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer. Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter. Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients. Serve immediately.
- Deep frying
- Homemade stock
All of these seem to have this aura of difficulty or precision or just a mystical, well-kept secret to success that isn’t shared with home cooks. After my kale chip attempt proved utterly successful and laughably easy, I was ready to tackle my list again with a little more confidence. M and his godfather both started with a seafood risotto (full of paella flavors) when we went out to eat. I stole a bite, of what is my first taste of risotto in my memory. It was just as creamy and lovely as I had hoped, and, after stumbling across more and more recipes, I finally bit the bullet and set up for my first attempt. All that I had read about risotto made me certain that I wanted to make this recipe by the book. I’m prone to substitution and modification, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.
I did a bit of research and cobbled together what seemed like the most-often used ingredients and ratios for a basic risotto. Then I played a little, finally settling on my tangy combo of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and chevre. I was a bit heavy-handed with my basil, since I used a finely pureed frozen version that completely immersed the dish, but otherwise, it was the warming dish that I had hoped. And, again, like my kale chips, risotto was much easier than I had anticipated. It does require constant stirring, however, beyond having to stand at the stove, it is actually fairly simple in terms of ingredients and additions.
I have scaled back the amount of basil in this recipe. My best advice would be to use the fresh herbs. When your chopping it, you can control just how small to chop the leaves (and therefore just how invasive the flavor will be). The basic recipe covers the technical requirements, otherwise, play around and have fun adding other flavors! Since most add-in’s are added at the end of the cooking period, or else at the very beginning, they do not have much of an effect on the general order of the recipe.
Serves 4 | Prep: 15 min | Cook time: 30-45 min
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
- 1 c. arborio rice
- 1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 c. white wine
- 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated*
- Salt and pepper
*If Add-in ingredients to the basic recipe includes a focus on a different kind of cheese (like the goat cheese in mine), sub 1/4 of the parmesan for the focus cheese.
Add the stock to a medium pot and bring to a low simmer.
Prep all ingredients completely before putting heat to your risotto pan. Use the time while the broth is warming to prepare the mise en place. I have heard the advice and lectures about mise en place (french for “everything in place” or the ingredient set up for cooking–chopped, measured and prepped–before beginning to cook, as used in professional restaurants). I, often times, do not follow it or else only halfway: everything chopped, but not measured. Risotto is not a recipe to ignore mise en place. Have all of your ingredients measured, chopped, minced, etc before you add anything to the pan.
When the broth is warm and everything is prepared, place a large saucepan or saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil and melt together. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until turning translucent. Add rice, cook for about 1-2 minutes. Stir vigorously, to coat each rice grain with the oil-butter mixture. A lightly “toasty” smell should be detected under the onion. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant. Add the white wine and, stirring constantly, cook until absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of warm broth and continue to stir and cook until absorbed. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of broth, waiting until the liquid is absorbed entirely by the rice before adding the next 1/2 cup. With 4 cups of broth, you should have 8 rounds, total, of adding 1/2 cup of broth and stirring until absorbed. It takes around 25-30 minutes. The more broth you add, the creamier the rice will get, but you should always be able to notice that the liquid is finally absorbed. In the last few rounds, a small taste is helpful. Ultimately, the rice should be chewy, with the hint of a “bite” or slight firmness, like al dente pasta.
Remove the rice from the heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parmesan, and any Add-in ingredients. Serve immediately.
Risotto will not keep well, refrigeration will make it gooey. Enjoy it just cooked. If you are cooking for less people, halve or quarter the recipe (approximate on the butter and oil. Everything else is pretty easily divided).
My add-ins last night were spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and basil, but I’ve rounded up some of the more classic pairings. Search through a couple google results to get your on inspiration for add-ins:
Spinach, Goat Cheese, & Tomato Risotto
- 1/2 c. sun dried tomatoes, chopped fine
- 1/2 c. frozen or 1 c. fresh spinach, sliced into thin ribbons
- 1 tsp. frozen/dried or 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
- 1/4 c. chevre, crumbled
Stir into risotto with the butter and parmesan after it is removed from the heat. Continue stirring until goat cheese is melted. Serve.
Risotto al Pomodoro
- 3 Tbsp olive oil (replace butter in basic recipe)
- 1 c. plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
- 1 Tbsp fresh basil, minced
Use olive oil in place of butter, adding according to basic recipe. Stir in tomatoes and basil with the parmesan at the end. Serve.
Risotto alla Milanese
- 4 c. beef stock (to replace chicken/vegetable stock)
- 3 Tbsp beef marrow (optional)
- 3 Tbsp lard (if you want to be really authentic. Butter is easier to find)
- 1-2 tsp. saffron
Heat the saffron in the beef stock. Stir in the marrow when you cook the onions. Use lard in place of butter. Follow directions above.
- 12 oz mushrooms of choice, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
- 2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cook the mushrooms alongside the onions and through the broth-adding process. Stir in the herbs after removing from heat.
- 1 1/2 c. asparagus, chopped into one inch pieces
- 1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed
- 2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 tsp. parsley, finely chopped
Cook asparagus in microwave while stirring risotto. Add all ingredients after removing risotto from heat. Serve immediately.
What would you put in your risotto?