In her roundup of cookbooks to give and receive, food writer Heidi Swanson praises the menu-based concept for Simple Soirees by Peggy Knickerbocker.
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Winter Greens with Sherry Vinaigrette and Pine Nuts
For the dressing:
1 Iarge shallot, minced
Pinch of sea salt
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
6 cups bitter greens, washed and chilled
Fill a salad bowl with assorted bitter winter greens, such as escarole, endive, radicchio, and dandelion greens. A bottle of good sherry vinegar is a great pantry item -- it brings a sparkle to soups such as gazpacho and offers a change from red wine vinegar in vinaigrettes.
Place the shallot in a small bowl with the salt and the vinegar, and allow the shallot to macerate for a few minutes. Whisk in the olive oil. Toss the dressing with the greens and sprinkle the nuts on top.
Wild Mushroom Risotto with Truffles
During late autumn and early winter, truffle season is one of the great experiences of living in France, where you can find both the local black truffles and the white ones imported from Italy. Fortunately, you can buy them in the States, too. I know most of us are don't have access to them much of the time, but when you do, shave them with abandon on this risotto. I do not recommend using truffle oil in place of a fresh truffle.
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds fresh wild mushrooms (such as porcini, chanterelles, oyster, shiitake, or morels) cleaned, trimmed, and uniformly sliced into dime-sized pieces (use cremini mushrooms in the absence of wild mushrooms)
5 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 shallots, the size of a quarter, minced
2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli rice, or whatever equivalent is available
1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Chianti, or white wine
1/4 cup mascarpone or heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 ounce fresh white or black truffles (totally optional but totally worth it)
Soak the porcini in 1 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes or longer. Strain the liquid through a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth into a small bowl and set aside. Chop the porcini and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it sizzles, add all the mushrooms (wild and reconstituted porcini), and cook, stirring gently while the mushrooms simmer, at first giving off their juices, and then reabsorbing them, 5 to 8 minutes. Set the mushrooms aside and keep warm.
In a large pot, bring the chicken stock and the reserved porcini broth to a boil, then let it simmer on a burner at the back of the stove.
In a large, heavy skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and cook until they become translucent, about 3 minutes, stirring as you go. Add the thyme and stir again.
Add the rice, stirring so that all the grains are coated and hot, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it evaporates.
Add a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the simmering stock and stir until it is almost absorbed. Continue adding a ladle of the broth at a time, stirring continuously, until it is used up. It will take 18 to 23 minutes for Carnaroli rice and a little longer for Arborio. Taste as you go and make sure that there is not a chalky taste to the grain and that the rice is substantially creamy.
Add the mushrooms, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and the cream, and stir. Scatter most of the cheese over the top and stir gently, saving a little cheese to top the final dish. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to rest for at least 3 minutes.
Transfer the risotto to a warm bowl, sprinkle a little chopped parsley on top, and serve at the table with the truffle and a truffle slicer alongside.
From Simple Soirees by Peggy Knickerbocker. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.