A confession: I work for Sur La Table and I don’t know how to cook. Shocking, I know. Before I started my job here at Corporate HQ, I imagined that every employee was a pro in the kitchen, whipping up effortless soufflés, baking perfect pie crusts, reducing reductions, making gourmet realness happen. A regular Julia Child in every cubicle. Come over for brunch! I’ll throw a quick frittata together. Hungry? How about this improvised pasta dish that looks like it came straight from a food stylist’s portfolio? Oh, these? Just some croissants I made this morning. No big. While that imagined culinary prowess turned out to not be true of every employee in the office (I’m talking to you, guy whose diet consists solely of things you don’t need to leave your car to get), people here are, for the most part, serious about food and really good at making it. For someone who doesn’t know their elbow from a santoku, that can feel intimidating.
My pre-Sur La Table culinary history pretty much consisted of eating at restaurants and out of tubs of hummus. Sometimes one right after the other. For years, my signature at-home dish was a “salad” featuring crispy chow mein noodles, little to no greens, and a can of tuna that I could share with my cat. I know. So, when I started working here, I thought, time to step it up. My first attempt was a roasted chicken. Easy, right? Right. But I still managed to get it wrong. Despite high hopes and compulsive reading of recipes that included statements like FOOLPROOF and YOU LITERALLY CANNOT MAKE THIS NOT TURN OUT WELL, the thing came out of the oven both looking raw and tasting overcooked. Terrible. It set me back for months.
Since then, friends and colleagues have encouraged me to keep trying. The memories of that pale, sawdusty bird have mostly faded. I’ve purchased some great kitchen tools and cookware during my time here (hello, Vitamix! What up, beautiful Staub cocotte that I will cherish forever? Wüsthof: no words) and developed an interest in doing something more than decorative with them. Sad is the stockpot that sees no action, amirite? And then, in our recent Q&A with Sur La Table Senior Resident Chef Joel Gamoran, he offered this sage advice for aspiring home cooks afraid of failure: “It’s just food.” Those words really said something to me when I read them (specifically, they said, “It’s just food”). I felt armed and emboldened. I felt ready to cook.
So, when I had company over the other week, I decided to do what every newbie home cook should probably not do for the first time when dinner is on the line for other people: make risotto. I figured, sure, it’s got a reputation as a dish that’s easy to ruin. I have a reputation for ruining easy dishes. What’s the worst that could happen?
The answer: besides a kitchen that looked like a pack of wild, vindictive animals had been through it, a mild strain to my stirring muscles, and an hour of my life that I’ll never get back, nothing. Nothing bad happened. The risotto was… good. Really good, even. It was hot. It was sufficiently al dente but not too much so. It was not bland or close to it. It did not take on the dreaded cement consistency that has befallen so many risottos before it. It actually looked like the picture in the cookbook. Someone asked for seconds. MY MOTHER PRAISED THE LEFTOVERS. Success!
So here, for new and veteran home cooks alike, I triumphantly present the recipe for The First Risotto That I Ever Made and Will Never Forget. Thank you, creamy, carrot-y friend. You made me feel like I can take on the world. Maybe even another roasted chicken.
Caramelized Carrot Risotto
Very lightly adapted from Sunset magazine’s cookbook
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 tablespoons butter, divided (I used salted because I feel weird about breaking up packages of unsalted at the grocery store for just one stick; seemed to work out fine)
6 medium carrots, peeled and evenly diced, not too small. About 3½ cups.
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
6 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup minced onion
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus 2 glasses for yourself to drink if you’ve never cooked something like this before, either.
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese or heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly or otherwise shredded parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 small handful roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 big pinch roughly chopped fresh thyme. Do you keep the stems or not? I still don’t know.
Pepper for seasoning (the original recipe called for white; my cooking sees no color)
Medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot. I used my aforementioned Staub. 7 qt. Felt legit.
Measuring cups and spoons, assorted
Your favorite knife. It’s true what they say: a great one makes a big difference.
Cutting board (I love these. This one’s on my wish list.)
Heat 1 tbsp. oil and 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat; add carrots and stir until well coated. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp. salt and the sugar; cover and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots start to brown. This might take longer than expected; don’t panic.
Reserve half the carrots. In a blender, purée the other half with 3/4 cup hot water. I added a generous splash more, but I’m not the boss of you.
Bring chicken broth to a simmer, cover, and keep on simmering, over low heat.
Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in the same pot used for carrots. Don’t wash it beforehand because: flavor. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and stir until well mixed.
Add 1/2 cup hot broth, stirring pretty much constantly until rice absorbs most of it. Repeat process, adding 1/2 cup broth at a time and stirring until absorbed before adding the next ½ cup, until rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. You’ll have some stock left over; that’s ok, too.
Fold in reserved carrots (save a few for garnish if you’d like — I didn’t), mascarpone or cream, 1/4 cup parmesan, parsley, and the thyme. Add up to 1 cup broth, just a bit at a time, to loosen the risotto if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and dish up!
Sprinkle each serving with some parmesan, parsley, and reserved carrots if you saved any. Serve as if you make stuff like this every day, and cherish the moment: it may just be food, but it’s food that you just cooked.
What was the first thing you cooked that turned out really well? What do you think I should try making next? And seriously — WHAT is the trick to roasting a chicken?? Let me know by leaving a comment below. Thanks!