Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm going to talk about food today. It is always a notable shift for me--these dark evenings of the waning year, when I begin to forsake the garden for preserved food. I have harvested the last of my brussels sprouts and nearly all of my kale; already I have made a sizable dent in my prideful display of canned tomatoes, and I'm back to buying grocery store lettuce. Still, the freezer and the cupboard are not bare yet, and I've made a couple of meals recently that remind me that stored or preserved foodstuffs do not imply any lessening of quality. To wit:

December Risotto

Broth base: 1 quart clam liquor (left over from a summer steamer feast, then strained and frozen) thawed and heated along with 3 cups of plain water to reduce the saltiness

Minced and then sauteed together: 1 small onion (from the grocery store because my onion crop was a big failure), a small handful of wild honey mushrooms (picked in October, dried over the wood stove, then soaked in warm water for half an hour, rinsed, and squeezed dry), a tablespoon of red pepper flakes (from my own hot peppers strung up to dry in the kitchen and then scissored into the pan), 3 tablespoons of olive oil (you'll be surprised to hear this, but for some reason I can't seem to grow olives in Maine).

Add 2 cups of white arborio rice, stirring until the grains are thoroughly oiled.

Slowly, over the course of 20 minutes or so, ladle in the broth, stirring more or less constantly as the rice absorbs the liquid, although it's fine to take breaks to replenish your wine glass or to turn the page of the Dickens novel you're reading while you're standing at the stove.

When the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is no longer crunchy, stir in a pat of butter and a spoonful of minced parsley (which several months ago I emulsified in the food processor with a touch of bland oil, which helps the leaves keep their color, then froze in small containers and now thaw as needed). Finally, stir in a half-cup of grated good-quality parmesan (purchased along with the aforementioned wine at Miccucci's Grocery in Portland, Maine, during a foray into civilization).

Set the table, light the little angel chime candles, and serve with a salad: organic baby arugula from the grocery store combined with split brussels sprouts quickly pan-roasted with olive oil and garlic from the stash under the sink (fortunately my garlic plants thrived, unlike those stupid onions); add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a soupcon of salt and pepper, and you're done.

For two or three people, this lovely simple supper does not require any other additions: there's plenty of rice available for seconds. That's not say that a warm baguette wouldn't be nice too, if you had one.

If you do end up with leftovers, heat some peanut or grapeseed oil in a skillet, form the risotto into patties, and fry them up. Tom eats these for breakfast. They also make a good layer under the next day's sauced chicken thighs or marinated pork chops.

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