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I will never forget the look on my son's face. We were in a lovely restaurant in Genoa, Italy. After he was through perusing the menu and had carefully given his order, the waiter looked him up and down and said "No!"
He's a big guy (6'4"); not used to being told "No!"
Fortunately I had warned him that this might happen. Mon mari often faced the same problem, particularly in Italy.
In the Mediterranean countries waiters take their profession seriously. And it is a profession, not a job to do while waiting for something better. They have a vital role in making certain that your dinner is a pleasurable experience. Not only do they provide impeccable service but they want to make certain that your food is perfect.
To that end the customer may not always be right.
The first time it happened I had ordered a lovely, light asparagus risotto, followed by veal scallops in caper sauce. Mon mari, as he often does, simply said "The same for me, please." The waiter said "No!"
He then went on to explain that for me (Madame) it was perfect; but a big man like mon mari (just over 6'1") needed something more substantial.
Risotto, yes, but with a bit of pancetta and cannellini; veal, fine, but a big, rare, veal chop with mushrooms.
He actually didn't so much as suggest as dictate and beamed proudly when mon mari acceded to his wishes.
It was, of course, heavenly!
My son had wanted to order pasta with pesto for his first course. We were in the home of pesto, after all, and he loved it!
After much discussion in bad Italian (our part), bad English (his part), arm waving and pointing, a compromise was reached.
He would be given a small plate of pasta with pesto, courtesy of the restaurant. The rest of the meal would be 'appropriate' for him, as determined by the waiter and the owner of the restaurant (who by now had gotten involved in the whole debate).
DS was not entirely happy, but acquiesced…since he had no choice.
He was sublimely, deliriously, supremely, ecstatic when the meal was over; and eternally grateful to the waiter.
Which brings me to the real subject of today's post: Risotto.
Excuse me whilst I get up on my soapbox…. Okay, everyone paying attention? Here it is:
Risotto is easy!
Contrary to what you have been told it is not tricky, difficult or fussy to make. You do not have to stir constantly (frequently, yes, constantly, no) and you do not (This one came from Katie Couric, the overly chipper, giggler) have to finish it with "gobs of butter" to make it wonderful.
It can be as elegant or as rustic as you choose, you can use the odd bits left in the fridge or buy fresh asparagus and truffles. Along with the omelet/frittata it is, in my opinion, one of the essentials in any cooks repertoire… or that of the none cook, for that matter. It's that easy.
Now, I shall pass on my personal opinions/methods/knowledge; feel free to disagree, that's what the comment section is for.
First, the stirring.
Tradition says that one must stir constantly to get the creamy lusciousnesses.
Tradition also says that it should be cooked to al dente perfection in 16 – 18 minutes.
I give it a good stir every 2 – 3 minutes and when I'm adding the wine or stock. I cook it on a slightly gentler heat so it actually takes 25 – 30 minutes to get done. You would think I finished it with heavy cream – really! It's that silky smooth and wonderful.
By stirring frequently rather than constantly I have freed my hands to make the condimenti at the same time as the risotto, allowing everything to be done at the same time. By cooking it a wee bit slower and longer I get the same creamy effect.
Second, the consistency.
The risottos we have eaten in northern Italy have been thick but with visible creamy liquid, served in a flattish bowl and eaten with spoons.
Risottos I have seen in the U.S. have been stiff enough to stand a knife in…
Third, I always use a bit more cheese, I mean, why ever not? Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano? Why ever not?
Sausage, Pepper and Fennel Risotto, for two
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs Arborio rice (or other rice specifically for risotto – Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
1/2 cup dry, white wine
2 – 2 1/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 onion other half for the condimenti
1 tbs butter
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese – freshly grated (about 2oz, 60gr)
2 tbs fresh parsley
Heat chicken stock and keep hot over low heat. Finely chop onion. In medium saucepan heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until transparent then add rice and sauté stirring, for 2 – 3 minutes until rice has white center. Add white wine and stir. Start condimenti. When wine is almost absorbed add a 1/2 cup of stock, stir. When stock is almost absorbed add another 1/2 cup and continue adding 1/2 cup at a time and stirring. Before the last 1/2 cup taste a few kernels of rice. They should be just 'al dente' – slightly resistant to the tooth but fully cooked. If more stock is needed add it 1/4 cup at a time and waiting until almost completely absorbed. At this point risotto will be thick but not stiff – there will still be visible liquid and it will not hold its shape on a plate. Add the Parmesan, parsley and the condimenti, stir well, pour into a bowl or risotto platter and serve immediately. It will continue to absorb liquid and the leftovers (if any) will be very stiff.
Prosciutto, 2 thin slices
1 – 2 sausages, 4oz (120gr)
1 medium fennel bulb
1 clove garlic
1/2 large orange, red or green bell pepper
Slice the Prosciutto into strips. Cut the sausage into 1" (3cm) pieces. Chop the onion. Slice the pepper into strips, then cut the strips in half. Mince the garlic. Slice off stem end of fennel, remove outer layer if needed, otherwise rinse. Cut fennel into 1/4" (.5cm) slices, then cut slices in half. Heat olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium. Add pepper, fennel and onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic, Prosciutto and sausages and sauté until sausages are cooked through, 7 – 8 minutes longer. Turn heat to low and let cook slowly until needed.
Now go, make risotto!
BTW: Christine Cooks has a very pretty risotto this week, as well!