Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Venture on

Day 7: basic risotto

We made it. Seven days of satisfaction and sometimes even succulence. I call it Adventurist not because the dishes themselves are challenging, but because the task of sticking to the menu requires a bit of planning and can-do attitude that's difficult to muster when you'd rather be drinking a beer and watching 'Survivor.'

If you've been playing at home, your working grocery list should look something like this:

Basics (with their costs)

1 big chicken (I buy Smart.), $8
Large head of romaine (Or lettuce of your choice; if I'm at Whole Foods, I choose arugula.), 2
Bag of Yukon golds (or other potatoes), 4
Pound of split peas, 2
4 yellow onions, 4
Carrots, 2
Celery, 2
Parsley, 1
Pound of red beans, 1
Basmati rice (see below)
Shortgrain rice (see below)
Green pepper, 1
Sausages (a good pork one, seasoned to your taste), 4
Pound of bacon, 3
Dozen eggs, 2
Pasta (We move between spaghetti and linguini, to vary the toothiness.), 2
Grana cheese (Parma, Romano, or a good knockoff. Not Wisconsin.), 6
Spices (See below.)

Masala mix – Several bags of spices will last you half a year and cost you about $25. Blend them at home to make your own curry mix.
Rice in bulk – It really makes sense. I buy short-grain (sushi) rice at Nam-Hai and basmati at Laxmi. They lost many, many meals.
Ham or bacon – You have a lot of wiggle room here. Buy a smoked hock for the beans, some peppery bacon for the carbonara, some of my Arkansas bacon (Reasor's, and I've only found it on 41st Street) for the potage. Mix and match.
Sausage – Endless options, all reasonable and most quite tasty.
Dried chiles – In bulk, they're pennies. We toss them into the Spanish tortilla, sometimes the carbonara, always the potage. And curries!

Minus the rices and spices, we're around $50 for the week. Not bad for seven days of lean, mean dining pleasure. Perhaps you would argue, and your argument would be surely sound. But I like mine, too. I like the variety, the ethnicity, the relative spontaneity, given that we've hamstrung ourselves with a budget. Admittedly, this menu has no shrimp or fish, no beef, no vegetables but the most basic, no polenta. It has no mushrooms.

But it could. The whole menu could be tweaked to taste without pushing the $50 boundary too far. Chicken and its ensuing stock are the basis of the Seven-Day Adventurist plan, but that's by choice. My beef menu might go like this:

Tom Colicchio's hanger steak (It's on the Esquire site.)
Beef tacos
Potato stew
Pasta l'amatriciana (Look it up. It's gorgeous.)
Chicken livers (Breaded and fried until crispy in olive oil, served with a squeeze lemon on a bed of spinach atop a mound of polenta.)
Roasted root vegetables (Also on polenta. Or rice.)
The leftover hanger – you can also do this with tri-tip, or flat-iron steak – can be torn for tacos, or sliced into the pho. Buy a little large for this reason.

Oh, about the risotto: risotto is a creamy, soft thing and it needs a bit of crunch to give it interest. Out of the Adventurist shopping cart, I like a few crumbles of crisped bacon; a few crunchy greens, like chard or kale; some sliced bell pepper; perhaps the liver and gizzard from your chicken (Pull them from the chicken cavity, sauté them in butter and cut them up; they'll store for a few days.)

Basic risotto requires only stock, rice, onion and cheese.

Saffron will take your risotto to new heights, but it'll cost you.

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