Some people view food as fuel only, and don’t care what they eat as long as it keeps them going. These people are content with cold cereal for dinner for days on end, or an identical lunch every day. Maybe they skip meals without even noticing, or don’t care when the sandwich they packed for lunch is (horror of horrors) soggy.
As you may surmise from the briefest glance at this blog, I am not one of those people.
I love food in an all-caps sort of way. I love to eat. I love to go out to eat. I love to cook, especially with friends. I love farmer’s markets. I love food that is fresh and flavorful and makes me feel nourished. Not that I’m picky – I worked at a children’s camp run out of homeless shelter that had an exceedingly tight budget for two summers. One day we had tacos, but instead of hamburger meat or chicken, it was pizza-grade Italian sausage. So yes, I will eat nearly anything. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere – for example, mine is strict on bugs, no matter how the strongly the U.N. recommends it.
But that feeling of nourishment, of food satisfying a need deeper than that for fuel, often comes to me through the process of cooking. There is something about setting aside time to prepare a meal, of getting absorbed in the process of making food that is calming, almost sacred. Cooking, as opposed to baking, is dynamic and absorbing. With baking, you mix some stuff up and hope it comes out of the oven edible. Cooking takes attention to detail, creativity, and knowledge of the the way ingredients interact and change with heat and time.
This is what I love about making risotto. It a process that forces me to take time, to slow down. Focus is a practice, and cooking risotto helps me focus, helps me organize my thoughts and breathe. It is endlessly adaptable – I’ve made it with mushrooms and bacon and red pepper and chicken and broccoli (not all at the same time). Today, to celebrate that it finally feels like fall, I made it with pumpkin. It’s a much more subtle pumpkin flavor than I expected, which makes it suitable for those who haven’t gotten the pumpkin bug that runs so rampant in the fall. I ate for lunch today with with toast and a spinach salad simply dressed with balsamic, olive oil, and salt. It was perfect.
Adapted from Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups white rice, preferably Arborio
1 cup dry white wine
7-8 cups broth of your choice
1 cup canned pureed pumpkin (Be careful not to get pumpkin pie mix!)
1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley (optional)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
In a medium saucepan, heat your broth. Keep warm on low throughout the process.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 10-20 seconds, or until sizzling. Add the onions, and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft and slightly browned. Add about 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, and the nutmeg. Add the dry rice, and stir until coated with the olive oil. Continue stirring for 3-4 minutes, until the rice is warmed and has a slight nutty smell. Add the wine. All the alcohol will cook out; however, you can choose to use another cup of broth for this step if you wish. Add the pumpkin and continue stirring. Turn down the heat to medium-low, so that the risotto never boils. Instead, it should have a few bubbles that pop up across the surface. I like to think of them as sinkholes. It should look something like this throughout the entire process: (Forgive the poor image quality)
Begin adding the broth half cup by half cup over the course of 30-40 minutes, keeping it looking something like the picture above and stirring after each addition. Add salt and pepper as you go – how much you use will depend on how salty your broth is. If it tastes a bit bland at first, salt will brighten the flavor significantly.
The risotto is done when the rice is plump and without a hard center. Add the parsley and parmesan, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.