It’s been awhile hasn’t it? Far too long, frankly. Life just got crazy for awhile, as it tends to do, and although cooking never became any less of a passion during all that craziness, the blogging part of it sort of fell by the wayside. I even missed my one year blogiversary, which is just sad.
But, well, I’m back, and with a new challenge to keep me occupied – I’ve joined the Daring Cooks, the newest offshoot of the ever-popular and wildly active Daring Bakers. This is my first challenge with the group, and I think its a fitting re-entry for me into the blogging world.
The August 2009 challenge for the Daring Cooks was chosen by Olga of Las Cosas de Olga and Olga’s Recipes: Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes. Mine used squid in place of cuttlefish, but close enough 🙂
This was actually a three-part challenge. The rice was only the last piece; to make and serve the rice dish required that you also make a sofregit (a slow-cooked tomato-based sauce with garlic, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms) and an allioli (a condiment made from fresh garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice).
I made the sofregit first, since it was the easiest part. I started by chopping up a couple of plum tomatoes, garlic, white onion, green bell pepper and a handful of cremini mushrooms, then just tossed everything into a skillet with some olive oil and a heavy pinch of both cumin and oregano and cooked it on low heat until everything was soft and moderately well combined. It smelled wonderful as it cooked, savory and fragrant, and the finished product was deep and rich tasting and totally delicious – I’d love to just eat it on some grilled ciabatta, perhaps with some cilantro.
The second component, the allioli, was more of a challenge. Two recipe options were provided, a traditional recipe and a “modern” recipe which was significantly more complicated and involved making something like a curd using egg yolks. I wanted to try something new so I went with the traditional method, though it required a mortar and pestle which I don’t have (though its on my list of kitchen implements to buy). So, I improvised by making a paste of garlic and salt by smashing it against a cutting board with the flat of my santoku, then used an immersion blender to mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, and an egg yolk (recommended to cut the garlic flavor a bit). The allioli was more of a thin sauce than the thick paste after blending, but as it sat it thickened up and eventually reached a rather nice consistency. Not quite right based on the recipe and reference photos, but it worked well enough for the final dish.
Finally, it was time to make the rice. The dish called for artichoke hearts (I used canned because frozen are very hard to find in my area and fresh are honestly just too much work for me), mushrooms (I used creminis), and cuttlefish cut into strips (I used frozen raw squid, pre-cleaned because I’ve cleaned whole squid once before and I think it may have traumatized me – NOT pleasant).
The dish started with the squid sauteed in olive oil, followed by the mushrooms and artichokes (I only put in about 2.3 of the artichokes to start, because I knew the canned ones wouldn’t hold the shape in the long cooking time and I wanted some actual pieces of artichoke in the finished dish) and a bay leaf. These were sauteed until the mushrooms were starting to soften and shrink and the artichokes took on some color. Then a few heavy spoonfuls of the sofregit were added to the pan and stirred around until everything was uniformly combined.
Then I added some lemon juice and red wine vinegar as a replacement for the white wine called for in the recipe (forgot to buy it – oops!) to deglaze all the yummy browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Once that liquid had mostly boiled off, I added three cups of chicken stock, a cup of arborio rice, and a heavy pinch of saffron.
Let that boil for 5 minutes, then stirred in the reserved artichokes and turned the heat to low and let it simmer until the liquid had been absorbed and the rice was tender, just a hair past al dente. I stirred in a handful of frozen sweet peas for a pop of green color and flavor, a bit of freshly cracked black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, then removed the pan from the heat and let it sit for a few minutes so everything could settle and the last bit of liquid in the pan could be absorbed gently.
To plate, I started with a smear of the allioli on the plate and topped it with a mountain of rice on one side and a little mound of sofregit on the other. J suggested that a few spears of asparagus might have added some welcome color variance and fresh flavor to the plate, and in retrospect I think he was right. next time I do something like this I’ll know to include some sort of vibrant green vegetable in the final plating.
Even without it though, this dish was delicious. The rice was surprisingly subtle in flavor, pleasantly savory with an interesting mix of textures (slightly chewy rice, meaty squid thanks to the long cooking time, tender artichokes and mushrooms, and a slight pop from the peas) and flavors (sweet, tangy, savory). The allioli was a perfect condiment, a sharp and pungent foil to the delicate rice, and the sofregit brought everything together with its rich red color and flavor. A bite of rice with a little of each condiment was damn-near perfect.
My only gripe about this dish was actually the squid, as I’m not sure I really enjoyed its texture when cooked this way. It provided an appropriate foil for the other textures of the dish, but I think I prefer my squid to be cooked very briefly so that it stays meltingly tender. If I were to make this again, I’d add the squid closer to the end so that it would retain that texture.
I’d also initially intended to make this outside on the grill (after an entirely successful experiment last week making jambalaya in this way) but was unable to due to an evening thunderstorm, and I think I’d like to try that cooking method next time. I think the slight smoky flavor imparted by cooking over charcoal would be a welcome and appropriate addition to this meal.
All things considered, though, I’d consider this meal a success, and it’s been a pleasant way to get back into this blogging hobby. I’m hoping for more of a challenge next month!