Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Masked Gourmand: Dangers of Gourmet Camping

You might not think of this as being ideal camping fare but I rarely go camping without including this on my menu. The dish I am speaking of is risotto.

The first time I remember making it when I went camping was with my mother a few years back.  We had set up camp and had done what we thought was an admirable job of setting up our kitchen. Well, it wasn't as good as the set up I have now, Cabela's camp kitchen, but it was okay. 

The first night I made risotto.  And oh, it was good. Very good. But we weren't hungry enough to finish it all so I packaged it up and put it in one of the coolers, along with the rest of the hunk of Parmesan cheese I hadn’t used.

We were awakened in the middle of the night with a clatter. No it wasn’t Santa on the rooftop. But you guessed it. We were being visited by raccoons.
By Darkone (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
For those of you who haven’t camped, you may not know that raccoons are nature’s garbage disposal service.  They raid campsites nightly, looking for any available food items to scavenge.

Well, I knew that, and believed that I had safely secured my food.  Packing it away in coolers with tops well closed.  I also put garbage in bags in the trunk of the car.

But the middle of the night clatter proved my wrong. 

We rushed out of the tent, flashlights blazing, and chased the varmints off.  They left so quickly they had to leave behind their haul.

We assessed the damage. They had broken into my plastic container of herbs and spices.  No damage. Nothing taken.  They had also managed to open a cooler and guess what they took?  The leftover risotto. And, on top of that, they had grabbed the extra Parmesan cheese. 

We dubbed these coons as gourmands, for sure.  And the rest of the camping trip we put many weighted things on top of the coolers so they COULD NOT get in.

So, that’s my risotto camping story and this is how I make it.  This is where the cast iron skillet is essential.  You can make this over a camp stove or a campfire.

What you’ll need for a basic risotto recipe:
Arborio rice
Vegetable or chicken stock (or bouillon cubes)
Onion or shallots
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Optional: fresh chopped herbs to throw in at end

To start, heat olive oil and butter in the skillet and saute chopped onions (actually I prefer shallots) until softened, 2-3 minutes. DON'T let them get too dark. (You can add minced garlic here as well).  Season with salt and pepper. The saute 1 cup of arborio rice for a 1-2 minutes, stirring often.) Then de-glaze the pan with a cup of dry white wine.  Cook off for a minute or two. As that cooks down, make sure you have the stock nearby. I prefer to have it heated up a little.

Add stock after the wine cooks down and continue simmering the dish over medium heat, stirring often.  Add half cup to cup at a time.  You will probably use 3-5 cups of stock.  This simmering process should take 20-25 minutes.

When it's soft enough, and I like a softer risotto, add a half stick of butter a cup of grated Parmesan and mix in.  Whip up so it's nice and creamy. Add fresh herbs if desired, such as basil, thyme, oregano. This brightens up the dish.

Then serve.  And eat it all down or the coons will get it!

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