Monday, October 18, 2010

Cooking for a special occasion is one of my favorite things to do.

I enjoy making something from scratch for friends and family members. I’m happy to see the delighted looks on their faces. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Last Thursday, it was my husband’s birthday. I knew I wanted to make him a chocolate cake. I also wanted to try making osso buco for the first time – to pay homage to his Italian roots.

For inspiration, I turned to Italian super chef Mario Batali. I’ve enjoyed eating at several of his restaurants in New York, and I own two of his cookbooks. Yet, I’ve never cooked any of Batali’s recipes.

I selected two recipes in Batali’s “Simple Italian Food” cookbook. The first item to make was Osso Buco with a Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata. The second item was Risotto Milanese – a rich saffron risotto finished with butter and parmesan cheese.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any veal shanks to make the osso buco, so I settled for “bonfile” – beef tenderloin filets instead. I went to my local butcher shop, Atlas Kasabi, in Nişantaşı and ordered about 1 pound of tenderloin. The butcher trimmed the beef and then took most of the scraps and ground them. I’ve never seen that done before. So I went home with steak filets and some very nice ground beef. Sweet!

Now, onto the risotto.

Although risotto takes time to make, it isn’t difficult. You must continually stir the risotto while it’s cooking, wait for the chicken stock to absorb into the Arborio rice grains and then add more stock. Stir again. Repeat. This labor intensive technique results in a dish that is ultra creamy while the grains remain somewhat separate and a tad al dente.

Saffron isn’t always easy to find. Luckily, I bought a small tin of Iranian saffron at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. In the U.S., you may find saffron at a gourmet grocery store; or you can order the spice from Penzeys Spices, a U.S. spice company that I highly recommend.

The yellow-orange threads of saffron are harvested and hand-picked from a small purple crocus. Thus this aromatic spice is expensive. But a little bit goes a long way and certainly made the risotto dish tasty.

After the risotto starts cooking, I’d recommend making the gremolata – an Italian garnish traditionally made from minced parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Set aside. Then, cut and season the beef filets.

Although the meal took me several hours to prepare, I was happy to enjoy a lovely dinner at home with my husband. Plus, this entire meal – with a bottle of red wine - would have cost us nearly four times as much if we had eaten out at a restaurant.

Happy Birthday again, honey!

Risotto Milanese
(adapted from “Simple Italian Food”)

¼         c.         olive oil
1          ea.        medium yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1          tsp.      saffron threads
2          c.         Arborio rice (approx. 420 grams)
4          c.         chicken stock (approx. 1 liter)
4-6       T.         unsalted butter
½         c.         grated Parmesan cheese (more to taste)
TT                    salt and pepper

1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the saffron and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Then, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Adding the saffron threads to the rice.
3. Add a 4-ounce ladle of the stock and cook. Continually stir this mixture until the liquid is absorbed. Add more stock. Stir again. Repeat this procedure until all the stock is fully absorbed.
4. Cook the rice until it is tender and creamy, but a tad al dente, about 20-30 minutes. (I ended up adding a bit more stock to my risotto because it didn’t taste tender enough. Just taste a bite of your risotto and adjust accordingly.)
5. Lastly, stir in the butter and cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with Pine Nut Gremolata
2          ea.        4 to 5 ounce beef tenderloin filets, cut 1-inch thick
1          T.         butter
TT                    kosher salt and pepper

1. Season both sides of the filets with salt and pepper. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes on a cutting board before cooking.
2.  In a medium-high heat pan, melt the butter. Add the filets.
3. Cook for about 4 minutes per side to yield a medium rare filet.
4. Remove the filets from the pan. Place on a cutting board, lightly covering the filets with a piece of aluminum foil.
5. Let the filets rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
6. To serve, place a generous spoonful of the risotto in the middle of a plate. Then, place the filet on top. Garnish the filet with the gremolata. Enjoy with a glass of dry red wine!

¼        c.         Italian parsley, finely chopped
¼         c.         pine nuts, toasted golden brown
1          ea.        lemon zest, finely grated

Mix the above ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Top off the evening with dessert. I made a flourless dark chocolate cake with a bourbon ganache glaze.

Serve a slice of the cake with ice cream. I bought dulce de leche ice cream at the store. Chocolate and caramel make a perfect pair!

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Sippy Cup Central said...

What a lucky husband..Happy Birthday!

Joy said...

Thanks Karen! Sorry I missed your comment from way back when!