Field Notes

Risotto with Leeks, Herbs and Chilies de Árbol

 

We first came to love chiles de árbol through a cookbook called Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin, a Los Angeles chef. Before leafing through its pages, we thought of these chilies as an occasional variation, rather than a full-blown staple. But in Goin’s recipes, chilies de arbol appear with almost as much frequency as salt or pepper--they are a signature ingredient that elevates her unique California-meets-Mediterranean cooking style.

From making a few of her recipes, we learned that throwing a whole chili in with a marinade or into a pot of stew has a huge effect on flavor. It provides a touch of heat, sure, but also a subtle smoky botanical flavor that helps to balance rich dishes. In this risotto, two chilies, along with fresh thyme and bay, make all the difference in an otherwise simple dish.

Serves 4

  • 4 leeks, roots trimmed and leafy dark green parts removed
  • 5 to 6 cups high quality chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 chilies de árbol
  • 7 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • ½ cup vermouth
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup pecorino

Slice each leek in half lengthwise, and then slice into ¼-inch thick half moons. Break them apart with your fingers and wash the chopped leeks very well to remove extra grit.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the the broth while you prepare the risotto.

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat, add the butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks of softened and reduced in volume, about 8 minutes. Add the chilies, thyme, bay and arborio rice and and cook for 2 minutes, then add the vermouth and cook until it has almost completely evaporated.

Add ½ cup of the warm broth to the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add broth by the ½ cup-ful, waiting until each addition has been absorbed before adding more, and stirring constantly throughout (it should take about 40 minutes). You’ll know the risotto is done when it has lost its crunch and formed a creamy porridge. Fish out and discard the chilies, thyme sprig stems, and bay leaf. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and season generously to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pecorino and serve immediately.