I don’t know about your houses, but in mine it’s pretty hard to slow down. Up sometime around 6:30, an eleven year old (who spends a looooonng time choosing music to get dressed by and then a longer time getting dressed) to get out the door by 7:40, a two and half year old to get fed and clothed and out to daycare (all the time proclaiming “no school today! It’s a snow day!” — this in fifty degree weather), three lunches to make, two adults to get prepared for work and on their way — and if we’re lucky spend fifteen minutes on stretching and sit-ups — by 8:30 at the latest. That’s just the morning. Then somewhere between 5 and 9 or so there are two kids to retrieve, a lot of mouths to feed, a dog to love, often a run to be squeezed in and the usual badgering (of the eleven year old) into practicing piano and doing homework and cajoling (of the willful two year old) into the bathtub and then pajamas and bed. (In case anyone is following toddler fashion tastes, you might want to know that matching pajamas are GROSS, the skeleton top now needs to be worn with the elephant bottoms. Or else.) Oh, and there are multiple stories to be read, and long hair to be brushed, and dishes to be washed. You get the picture.
But, still and all, sometimes, sometimes a slow moment sneaks up on me, and I sink into it, and notice that the evenings are starting to be marked by that long, low light, and that the perennials are about four inches higher than they were this morning, and that shallots really are the prettiest shade of purple-pink and that while there’s a whole lot dust bunnies breeding under the stove, maybe it doesn’t matter so much when the daffodils are starting to open.
Risotto is good for that. It requires a lot of stand-and-stir and if you bother to take a couple of deep breaths in the midst of that and look out the kitchen window, you might find yourself slowing down too. I’m a long-time risotto maker; I’ve turned out pot after pot of it for the past fifteen years or so, and I feel like I’m still getting it right. I started with Marcella Hazan’s basic risotto from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I learned a few things on trips to Italy — for instance, it was served more, um, soupily, there than I had imagined. I got it wrong a few times — undercooking and not getting rid of the chalky center — and I picked up a few more tips from The Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (the importance of keeping the broth hot so the rice doesn’t cool down in the cooking process). I’m still getting it right, but it’s pretty good.
Last night’s was especially pretty good, and one of those nice meals that happens when there’s nothing in the house. I suspect that for most people reading this blog, “nothing in the house” is probably a pretty ridiculous statement — as it is for me. Because you’re always picking up some olive oil, or a nice hunk of cheese or some risotto or something, well, just in case. You know, just in case there’s nothing in the house. You are, aren’t you?
Last night, the nothing in the house included some meaty turkey broth in the freezer, a stray shallot, and a packet of dried wild mushrooms, as well as the even-present risotto. A good beginning. Put on some music, send the boys up to the bathtub, pour out a little wine for cooking, a little wine for sipping, pet the dog, take that deep breath and slow down. Pretty good indeed.
Turkey and wild mushroom risotto
(If you use dried mushrooms, you’ll want to start them soaking in boiling water an hour or so ahead of time)
About 2T of olive oil and 1T of butter; vary proportions according to taste
1 chopped shallot
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup or so of white wine (red is fine but gives you a darker risotto)
A good handful of interesting mushrooms, dried or fresh, sliced.
Quite a bit of broth. A quart might do, but I’m always more comfortable with 6-8 cups. I get anxious about running out.
To finish: 2-3 T butter, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
Put the broth on one of the back burners of your stove and bring it to a lively simmer. Control the heat so it stays on the simmer but doesn’t start boiling away.
Put the butter and olive oil, in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (I used to use my Le Creuset 5 quart dutch oven but have switched loyalties to an All-Clad 6 quart), and warm over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Throw in the shallots and saute briefly until they turn translucent. Add the risotto and cook for about a minute, just until the grains begin to turn from opaque to translucent. Pour in the wine and stir until it’s mostly cooked off. At this point, I like to add the mushrooms and give them a little time to settle into the rice — maybe another minute or so. Still stirring.
Now you start the process of adding broth. I add something like a half cup at a time. You’ll need to jiggle the heat a bit from medium-high to medium and back again to keep the risotto moving along but not drying out too quickly. On the nights the risotto turns out best, I go about five minutes between additions, but that does make for more time at the stove. So maybe add some broth every three or four minutes. A word on stirring here — I spent about ten years of risotto-making thinking that the risotto Must Never Be Left Unattended — but in fact, if you’re a little liberal with the broth and give the pot a good stir, you can wander off long enough to, say, bring a sippy cup of smoothie and a glass of wine to the boys in the tub, help with an algebra problem or set the table. Just don’t get distracted. You really do need to be back every five minutes or so.
After about twenty minutes of add-broth-and-stir, you’ll want to start tasting to see if you’ve got the desired texture. You’ll probably hit it sometime between 25 and 35 minutes. Turn off the burner, beat in really rather a lot of butter and Parmesan cheese, taste and season with salt and pepper. I like to add a generous last ladleful of broth, cover, and let rest for a few minutes. A good time to round up the household, wash a dish or two or just wander out and see how the lamb’s ears are growing.