The subtitle of this post is: Picnic on Folly Beach at Sunset!
If you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut, or that you and your partner haven’t done anything fun or different in a while, go for a picnic. Picnics, when planned and executed correctly, can be so much fun and just that little bit of spontaneity and “adventure” that you need. And, as a friend of mine recently pointed out, it is almost as much fun to plan little excursions as it is to actually go.
I say this because, even though Rebecca and I didn’t feel like we were stuck in a rut, once we got to the beach for our picnic we both had the same thought: “Why don’t we do this more often?” The beach, in Charleston, is never that far away. It’s true, in nice weather the traffic can be miserable and parking can be even more miserable… but at sunset on a warm day in February? No misery to be found.
I whipped up this Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto in the early afternoon so we could pack a picnic basket and take the dog to Folly Beach for a sunset picnic. Cooking at 4:30 was great because there was much more natural light for prep-photos than I usually get at 7:00pm, 8:00pm or later, and there was the promise of al fresco dining.
Risotto is such a great dish because it can be pushed and pulled in any direction you want in terms of flavor. You want spicy? There’s spicy pangrattato risotto. You want sweet? Try vanilla risotto with poached peaches! Meaty? Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Risotto can do it all. Sweet potatoes happen to be very inexpensive right now, so I was psyched to find this recipe online. Also, this seemed like a very Southern dish with the sweet potato base and the crispy bacon on top. Learning to cook like a Southerner is a truly delicious journey.
Anyway, I did make some tweaks to the recipe, as I always do, though I did not cook the risotto in Tyler Florence’s latest “no-stir” method. I like to stir and futz with it. It makes me feel productive.
Rebecca, Brick, and I got to the beach just as the sunset was beginning to reach its beauty apex. A little later than we wanted, but not too late to see the color show (risotto, for all its good qualities, always takes a little longer than I plan for). We laid out the West African picnic blanket, made by hand by our former tailor Mamadou, and enjoyed one of the best sunsets and some of the best risotto ever.
Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto
Adapted from http://www.howsweeteats.com
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 large shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio or other short-grain rice
1 1/3 cups white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/3 cup parmesan cheese (I usually just use the Kraft variety… nothing fancy)
2 tablespoons brown butter
6 slices bacon, diced and cooked until crisp
Chopped fresh sage and rosemary
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a bowl, combine chopped sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and smoked paprika. Toss well to coat with spicy goodness. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes. Ideally, you’ll get some lovely toasted edges. Remove and mash, then set aside.
While the potatoes roast, heat the stock in a saucepan over medium-low heat until hot but not boiling. You can also make the brown butter at this time by heating it in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it becomes golden and fragrant. Also, you can cook the bacon at this time if you’re good at multi-tasking.
Heat a dutch oven over medium heat and add in remaining olive oil and butter (not the brown butter), then add shallots. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft, then add in garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Bring the heat up to medium-high and add the rice, stirring to coat. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring a few times until the rice begins to look translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low and deglaze with the white wine. Stir continuously as the rice absorbs the wine. When most of it is absorbed, add about 1/3 of the hot stock. Repeat the process, adding stock and stirring continuously, until all of the stock is used and absorbed and the rice is cooked. Salt to taste. The whole process will take about 30 minutes.
Once the rice is cooked, reduce heat to low and stir in the sweet potato puree. Take a few minutes and really stir stir until well-absorbed. Stir in parmesan cheese and brown butter.
To serve, place the risotto in a bowl and top with some more cheese, the chopped herbs, and the crumbled bacon.