Variations on a Theme | Caramelized Endive and Walnut Risotto

It might strike you as esoteric, caramelized endive.  But let me assure you that it is entirely devour-able, and not in the slightest way effete.

And the New Year is a perfect time to delve into comforting vegetarian dishes.  I just know you want to ease into your new-found resolve to eat more veggies, but dammit, it should taste good and be filling.

In this risotto, the endive is left to caramelize in a separate pan, given only a bit of olive oil, a garlic clove and salt to help it achieve its golden color.  Do this and you are rewarded with what looks a whole lot like oxtail and onions, only unabashedly vegetarian.  And simmering in another pot, a simple elixir of water, parsnips (crucial sweetness, in my opinion, to balance the bitterness of the endive), onion, bay and some seeds from the summer’s past garden (corriander in this case) round out the quick stock.

Combine it all and you have yet another version of one of my favorite things to cook for my family: risotto.  It is, after all, my lifetime dish.  One of those things I want to master perfectly before I die.  After all it is resolution season.

PK Tip: This dish is entirely versatile.  Sub kale and pecans for a thoroughly American take on the dish; radicchio and chestnuts for a U.K. variation.

Caramelized Endive and Toasted Walnut Risotto; serves two to three; inspired by this recipe in the Telegraph

For the stock:
1 very large parsnip, peeled and quartered length-wise

1 small onion, unpeeled and quartered

1 small handful of parsley, stems and all

6 juniper berries, crushed

10 whole peppercorns

15 whole coriander seeds

Combine all in a large pot with 12 cups of water.  Heat over high heat to bring to a simmer quickly, reduce heat to low to simmer for 30 minutes (or more if you have the time).  Yes, you can make a stock in 30 minutes.  Keep warm on the burner closest to where you’ll be cooking the risotto.

Next for the endive:
2 endive, trimmed and sliced in rings

1 garlic clove

olive oil, salt

In a small pan, heat olive oil until just below smoking point over medium heat.  Add endive and season with salt.  Cook, tossing occasionally, for about 20 minutes.  Reducing heat to medium low after about five minutes.  When the endive is caramel in color, turn off heat, leaving in pan to reheat just before serving.

For the risotto:
1/2 c walnuts

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

Heaping cup of arborio rice

Vermouth, house brand is Noilly Prat

Parsnip and onion stock, see above

Olive oil, salt, pepper

Grated gruyere or similarly luscious melting cheese, perhaps a Beaufort d’hiver. PK tip: if you have strict vegetarians, consider what kind of rennet your cheese contains.

In a large wide pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and toast the walnuts in a dry pan until fragrant, remove a tablespoon of the nuts and reserve.  Add in two tablespoons or so of olive oil along with the finely chopped onion.  Reduce heat and saute over medium low heat until the onions are just translucent.  Add the rice.  Stir to coat completely in the oil, onions and walnuts.  Cook for two minutes, stirring.  Pour in a generous glug of vermouth, about 1/4 cup.  Stir until evaporated, deglazing the pan.

Begin adding stock to the rice.  Using a strainer, take ladlefuls of stock and pour through a strainer, reserving all solids from the stock pot in the stock.  Cook and stir over medium heat until the liquid has been absorbed.  Never let it get too thick, it should always have some sauciness to it.  Add another ladleful of stock.  Continue this process of adding warm stock and stirring until it’s absorbed for anywhere from 15 to nearly 30 minutes.  Yes, I know you have heard that risotto only takes 20 minutes.  This is completely and wholly untrue.  Rices vary.  Rices I’ve bought canaroli rice from Campanini have taken as long as 25 minutes of stirring and stock-ing and Alessi‘s have taken as little as seventeen.  It truly does vary.  You have to taste and sample.  Start tasting at about 15 minutes.

Warm up the endive.

When the rice is done to your liking, add in the cheese, a bit of butter if you so choose and another ladleful of stock.  It will all be absorbed by the time you get it to the table.  It should have a bit of a liquid texture to it, not runny, just unctuous.  Divide between plates.  Garnish with the endive and the reserved walnuts, grate a bit more of the cheese over the lot and drizzle a good olive oil (I like to choose the thyme one from Olive Orchard‘s sample pack I received for Christmas).  Serve immediately.

Playlist included Variations on a Theme from Moses in Egypt, by Paganini, performed by Narek Hakhnazaryan.


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