Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cucumber Fennel Risotto & Salmon en papillote

It sounds a little weird, I know. I had cucumbers on the brain yesterday like, three weeks ago when I started this post. And I figure, if you are craving a food, there's a reason. The reason in this case was beyond me, but I went out to buy some cucumbers anyway. (And no, I'm definitely NOT pregnant, for those of you that would ask.) I think I'm craving summer and a garden, more than anything. Cucumbers are one thing I can grow in abundance, without fail... Cucumbers and zucchini. In fact, there was a funny thing I heard more than one person say while we lived in Vermont, and that was, "If you have to buy zucchini in the summer, then you must not have any friends." A little harsh, perhaps, but totally true in a place like Vermont. Most people had more summer squash than they knew what to do with! We had them growing wild out of our compost pile.

Anyway, back to cucumbers:

I had a random thought, and ensuing minor obsession with "cucumber risotto." I wasn't sure how to incorporate the cucumber, so to be prepared, I:

peeled, chopped, pureed.
And chopped & tossed with meyer lemon zest.

Then, still not knowing quite how I would tackle a cucumber risotto, I sought a little advice from from my handful of Facebook friends (friend the Dish!), and forged ahead with several options:

I even saved some peels, just in case -- didn't use them, though.

I also grabbed some fresh salmon, while I was out for the cukes.


Side note: After years of searching for the perfect way to cook salmon so that it tastes like what I get at my favorite restaurants... parchment paper. Why didn't I try this sooner? It's The Secret to Perfect Fish. I don't know if I'll ever cook it any other way. Ever. EN PAPILLOTE.


Fennel, lemon juice, salt & pepper; ready to be en papillote-ed.

The fish will absorb the flavors of whatever you put with it... think ginger matchsticks. Soy sauce. Brown sugar. Maple syrup. Various vegetable ribbons. Oh, the possibilities...

12 ounces, done in 13 minutes. It cooks up quicker than I want to believe, all wrapped up in its paper cocoon.
Oh yeah, and the risotto. Ta-da!

I think this would work with any melon, really. And next time, I might even add a little prosciutto.

Taking a deep breath and sitting down in front of this made me immeasurably happy. It's the little things, right?

1 c. uncooked arborio rice
2 TB olive oil
2 TB butter
2 small shallots, minced
half a medium-sized fennel bulb, minced
2 c. peeled, seeded, pureed cucumber
1 c. water or broth
1/2 c. grated hard cheese
1 c. peeled, seeded & diced cucumber, tossed with 1 tsp. lemon zest
1 c. sliced almonds, toasted

Bring pureed cucumber and water or broth to a low simmer. Have a 1 cup ladle handy.

Saute shallots and fennel in oil and butter for about 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring for at least a minute. Stir in 1 cup of simmering liquid. Continue stirring & cooking until liquid is absorbed.

Gradually stir in remaining liquid, 1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. 

Risotto is a little needy. Don't walk away from it. And taste! You want al-dente rice... If you think it needs more liquid, then pour a bit more water/broth in the simmering pot and add it in to the risotto. If you think it's done before you've added all of the liquid, that's fine, too.

Remove from heat, once it tastes done. Stir in 1/2 c. grated hard cheese. Parmesan or Romano is probably traditional. I used Grana Padano, and it was perfect.

Toss with the diced cucumber, just before serving. Top with the toasted almonds, if you want. And garnish with a fennel frond, if you so desire. I did.

For the Fish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut two big pieces of parchment. Rinse your fish and pat dry. Place on one piece of the parchment and dress with your chosen accompaniments -- I used thinly sliced fennel, meyer lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. 

Cover with the second sheet of parchment and fold the edges in a couple of times, to seal. Bake on a heavy baking sheet for 12-15 minutes. The fish cooks quickly in it's papillote. Fight the temptation to cook it any longer than 15 minutes. It'll be done, I promise.

You can also do individual papillotes. Then you can open each up and plate along with the bottom sheet of parchment. Which would be cute. I just don't like cutting so much parchment.


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