I know it’s corny, but making risotto brings back a memory from Italy. About ten years ago a girlfriend and I were traveling there for a few weeks and had grown restless from a few days on the Italian west coast. We headed in to Florence by train and suddenly found ourselves in the city, on a Friday night in the middle of tourist season with not a bed available in any hostile or cheap hotel anywhere. My friend remembered she had the phone number of her someone’s Italian cousin who lived in Florence. Although she had been urged to use the number we were reluctant to make the call. The alternative of sleeping on a bench in a park for the night pressed her to make the call. Once she did we never regretted the choice. The cousin and his friends had all just finished their college finals and were drinking wine and making risotto in their apartment. Two of his roommates had left for the summer already and we were welcome not only to dinner but to stay as long as we wanted in the spare room. They met us next to the Duomo and walked us back to the apartment, where we dined on one of the most gratifying meals I’ve ever had.
Last week I found some organic risotto at the Honest Weight Food Coop and have been excited to use it. I’d been looking for organic risotto for a while, so this was an exciting find for me. Now when I make risotto I usually follow Mark Bittman’s recipe and add whatever I feel like adding. In this case it was chopped spinach and mushrooms, both from the Saratoga Farmers Market.
He recommends you start by heating up 4-6 cups chicken stock separately and add a pinch of saffron (very expensive, but probably worth it). In a larger saucepan heat up a couple tablespoons butter and/or olive oil and then add 1 1/2 cups risotto (which you can find in the rice section of most grocery stores). Add about a half cup white wine, if you have it and let that absorb. I sauteed a chopped onion in with the butter before adding the risotto. Over about twenty minutes add the stock to the risotto, about a half cup at a time, each time stirring and then waiting for the liquid to absorb. He emphasizes that, contrary to common perception, you do not need to constantly stir it. Toward the end of this process I added about some shitake mushrooms that I had sauteed separately and two cups chopped spinach. At the very end you add a half cup or so of shredded Parmesan cheese. There just really is nothing like risotto when you need a little comfort or nurturing. Even the process of making it feels nurturing.
I find risotto’s a good meal for times of transition, such as Winter turning in to Spring. It can serve as a main dish or a substantial side dish. Here’s a picture of my daughter’s serving (she loves it and actually eats all the spinach).