To chase away melanchoy over a year that already promises not to be good, a Risotto Romanesco on the plate
The previous year did not end on a very good note. Much on the contrary. I'm guessing it all started going downhill the moment we returned from our vacation. Not big deal bad things, though, just... tiresome little stuff that does take away your sleep, that does take away your peace of mind, and ends up leaving you listless, strenghtless, without the will to carry on. You end up finding yourself just going through the motions and never really hopeful for what's to come, used as you get to never really having a moment of peace and quiet that seems to last. So you grab whatever you can get, even if it's just five minutes staring at a picture of someone else's white edwardian blouse, or the cheese platter they styled for instagram.
And because last year did not end on the best note, this one is already up to a very bad start. It begins with clouds on the horizon, with grief, pain and loss. It begins with having to explain the unexplainable, it begins with seeing the sadness in the face of the ones you most love, it begins with having to let go when you're just not ready to let go. It starts with waiting for an ending and loosing one's footing and not really knowing how to move on from there, nor what to expect of the future nor how one's going to pull through it. It begins with doubt, and doubt turns into fear of all the years ahead. It begins with the realization that there's nothing that is untouchable or stays untouched and that at a moment's notice what once was there, may be gone. Or about to.
I find myself striving to put away my melancholy, my usual moody self, in order to spare others of my selfishness and my usual goings on, as others might have a bit too much to deal with right now. I go about my life and my business, and I find myself stuck in the kitchen more often than I usually do, I find myself revisiting those old gastronomic friends I had set aside for a while, as if there is a comfort to them, of the well known, of the familiar, that might for a second keep away the mistery of what's to come. It's always good to go back to what you know well, if only to help you face the unkown, or keep it at bay a little while longer, even if it's only in your mind.
So I found myself going back to my beloved risottos just this week. It's been a while since I have cooked a risotto, even though it is one of my favourite dishes both to cook and to eat! The butternut squash risotto was such a hit, and it was quite an experimentation on my part, as I sometimes do like to invent and try out pairings that seem quite... well, unusual! Not that butternut squash risotto is unusual, I have been hearing its praises sung for quite sometime now, but I hadn't yet felt quite convinced it might tickle my fancies. It did, so I was left with that little bug inside me, of trying out for more risottos, and odder pairings, or at least working out my risottos with ingredients that are unusual to me.
I have been cooking risottos for longer than I have been writing this blog, so it's only natural that the first risotto I actually posted in here was one that was made out of having to use up certain ingredients in my fridge. It was an inventive risotto, but it came to me as an afterthought of a cod risotto I cooked some years ago - the photo must be somewhere on my instagram feed! - and that I had been wanting to replicate. I remember we had no cod, but we had a seafood cocktail of sorts in the freezer. So I just grabbed that and I got inventive, you know? I always seem to get inventive when I'm stressed or worried, as if my mind needs to be pushed away from those thoughts and the realities that are weighing me down, and chooses invention and imagination as a remedy for my melancholy.
And then there's this crazy thing that I am always experimenting with either seafood or vegetables when it comes to risotto, I cannot remember having tried a meat risotto - is there even such a thing, I wonder? - but have plenty of times cooked up risottos with peas, with mushrooms, with octupus, and this one that is a true favourite of mine, the perfect risotto for Spring, and I am already dreaming of April days when I can get to cook it once more, despite not knowing what tomorrow will be like. It's easier for me to look forward to the future in terms of cooking than in terms of where I will be or what life will be like. My futuristic goals stop at what I want to cook in a few months' time, while others may set goals of where they would like to find themselves in a few years' time. There's a reason for this, I know, and the reason is that I have witnessed too many times how your whole world can come crumbling down in front of you in a second. So I make no plans, I set no goals.
But I do find myself longing for those days when certain ingredients are in season so I can get to cook with them. Cauliflower was one of those ingredients, at a certain time in my life. Because I could cook a cauliflower risotto and that was something I was always ready to indulge in. I don't think I have ever posted a cauliflower risotto picture, either here or on my instagram feed, but it is one of the most cooked risottos in my household, along with this one that actually was my first invention when it came to risottos. It's still the risotto I turn to when in need of comfort and reassurance and when the days are dreary and long and bitter and cold. It's the one risotto that does make my tastebuds sing a song of glory and of hope.
So, talking about experimentation and unusual ingredients, there was this one ingredient that I have had on the back of my mind for such a long, long time, something I have been wanting to work with for quite a while, and that is the romanesco cabbage. It belongs to the cauliflower and broccoli family, so I was sure to appreciate the taste and flavour of it, but what really fascinated me about it were its looks. Yeah, I know you should never judge a book by its cover - only I do, if it's a book by any unknown author, the cover will have a huge importance in my wanting to read it, call me shallow all you want! I'm a very visual kind of person. - but when it comes to the romanesco, it is really the looks that had me wanting it. Have you ever seen one? It's the most beautiful thing in the world, it makes me think of vampire spires, and fractals, and the secret of the universe and the Wizzard of Oz, and that first chapter on Stephen King's The Dark Tower series first book The Gunslinger when Roland is lost in the desert chasing the magician... it is a true magnet for my imagination.
So when we saw it last weekend at the store for a very good price, I said to my husband, this is it, you know, this is when I'm picking this up and taking it home and cooking with it. 'But what are you going to cook with it?' he kind of asked, and I said I could use half of it in a soup - well, I ended up only using the leaves - and the rest begged for a risotto. It simply begged for one, and that's exactly what I did with it. Because if there is one thing I am consistent about, it's gotta be my food! A risotto romanesco not only tastes good, it looks good, and come on! it even sounds good!!
Here's how you go about it:
- 1 litre of bchicken or vegetable stock
- 1 medium sized romanesco
- one full cup carnaroli or arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 lonion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 dried chilli or chilli flakes
- olive oil
- parmigianno regiano or grana padanno cheese, just shaved
- parsley, a bunch, chopped up fine
Start by washing and dicing the romanesco into bite size chunks. On a cooking pan, warm up the stock and let it simmert. Add the romanesco to this, and allow to gently cook in it, over a very low heat. Chop up your onion and your garlic and make your soffrito over a high heat, frying the veggies with the chilli in a little olive oil, on a large pan, until they're tender, and then add the rice. Allow the rice to fry, coating it in the olive oil, and once it is slightly translucent, add the wine, stirring together until it has evaporated completely. Turn down the heat and add a laddle of stock, with some of the romanesco in it. Keep stirring and allowing the liquid to evaporate, adding laddle after laddle of stock one at a time, whenever the liquid has dried out. Check the seasoning and adjust it with the salt iand pepper and allow to cook. Once the rice is tender and there's no more liquid, add the shavings of cheese and the chopped parsley, let it rest for a couple of minutes, and serve with some more cheese grated over it. Pairs well with buttery white wines, in my opinion, but do stick to a glass of water if you're not having a special occasion meal!!