Sunday, March 14, 2010

March Daring Cooks Challenge: Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf. We were allowed to choose our own flavor variation, including sweets.

I have made savory risotto before, but I'd never heard of dessert risotto. I love rice pudding and the ingredients are similar, so I figured why not? The method is the same as traditional risotto, just with a sweet rather than savory base.

The flavors I chose were inspired by my recent trip to Costa Rica. We visited a sugar cane farm while we were there and saw the pressing and boiling of the syrup to make raw cane sugar, called tapa dulce. After tasting the unique almost molasses-like flavor of the sugar, I knew I had to bring some home to experiment with.

I combined melted butter, cinnamon, banana chunks and the tapa dulce in a baking dish and roasted them until the syrup was dark, thick and coated the softened bananas. While that was cooling, I melted butter in a skillet and toasted the arborio rice until it was coated and many of the grains were translucent. Then I added a little dark rum and cooked until it was evaporated. For the risotto liquid, I heated a combination of milk and heavy cream and gave it a flavor boost by adding toasted unsweetened coconut, vanilla extract and a cinnamon stick - this served as the "stock" to cook the rice. I added this gradually to the rice, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and allow the rice to absorb the liquid. With the last addition of liquid, I stirred in half of the caramelized bananas. To round out the tropical feel, I topped the risotto with the remaining bananas and syrup, chopped toasted macadamias and toasted sweetened coconut. This turned out very well and is definitely something I look forward to playing around with more in the future.

Full disclosure: I also made mushroom risotto for dinner the same night, but forgot to take a picture until we were clearing the table and there was nary a grain of rice left to photograph. :( You'll have to take it from me that it was delicious and a lot of rice to eat in one day.

Caramelized Banana Risotto
Flavor Base:
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup shredded tapa dulce (can substitute brown sugar - preferably dark or raw cane sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
4 ripe bananas, peeled and chunked

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt butter in a glass baking dish. Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir until it is thoroughly mixed. Add the bananas and stir to coat. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the syrup is thick and dark and the bananas are soft, but still hold their shape.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup toasted unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Do not let the milk boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer while you cook the rice.
Risotto Base:
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 cup arborio rice
2 Tbsp dark rum

Melt the butter in a skillet and add the rice. Stir the rice to thoroughly coat and allow it to toast. The grains should start to appear translucent. Add the rum and let it evaporate completely. Begin to add the dairy mixture just to cover the rice and stir constantly while the rice absorbs the liquid. When it is almost totally absorbed, add more and repeat until the liquid is nearly gone. With the last liquid addition, add half of the banana mixture and stir it in with the liquid. Allow it to cook, but do not let it get too dry. Salt to taste. Serve and top with toasted chopped macadamia nuts and toasted sweetened coconut flakes.