Recently, I was thinking about therapy and how it’s designed to teach you about yourself–to give you the “tools” for introspection and growth. If you go to therapy, you could talk about many things that bother you, from people to situations, but the important thing to keep in mind is that, ultimately, the common denominator in each situation is you (I know; that’s both a liberating and a frightening thought. It’s a whole new level of accountability). At certain moments, our lives can seem random and coincidental, but it’s really just full of patterns and choices and lessons that repeat themselves until we learn them…and, at long last, understand ourselves.
You’re maybe wondering what that has to do with food…A lot. Everything, actually. Just trust me; I promise I have a point!
You see, in the context of the above thoughts, I was thinking about what this blog says about me: what kinds of things I regularly make, what I’d like to try to cook (souffle!) what I probably eat too much of (pancakes but of course!) and which recipes have seemingly fallen out of my repertoire and for no apparent reason. What are my food patterns (even if a random and incomplete representation of my cooking habits?)? And it’s actually kind of fascinating. Based on my most recent posts, any individual who might stumble upon this blog would probably think that sugar shock, or even diabetes, was in my future. Or that I never ate dinner, just dessert. He or she might also notice that I’ve been on a blueberry kick (at this point, I should look like Violet Beauregarde), I’ve eaten a fair amount of chocolate and also that I have a thing for tomatoes. But I also couldn’t help but notice that a lot of my old staples–recipes I first started making when I finally decided it was time to learn to cook–were missing. And while certainly some patterns are worth leaving behind–to name only a few, perfectionism, a constant feeling of stress, procrastinating–these recipes were gems. In short, patterns worth repeating until my dying day (also, I won’t lie: it was high time we had something savory instead of sweet. Logistical concerns are always present, even in the midst of philosophizing).
Jamie Oliver’s risotto is one such pattern. When it comes to the world of cooking arborio right, I swear by his method. As he describes it: “the perfect risotto should slowly ooze across the plate, not be made into a tower or a mold.” And believe me when I say that this is exactly what this risotto does. Its movement across the plate is basically comparable to the way female starlets used to sashay across the screen in old Hollywood movies–slowly and seductively, i.e. the culinary embodiment of Sophia Loren. But elaborate metaphors aside, even as I was paying homage to my old friend Jamie (I got his cookbook, The Naked Chef, way back in my first year of graduate school), I was playing with some new flavors–red wine instead of his recommended vermouth, salty Pecorino-Romano rather than Parmesan. I wanted something rich and tomato-y–with almost the taste of classic spaghetti–but still somewhat light and not overwhelmed by the tomatoes. This is why I added arugula (for bitterness) and mint (for a barely there cool sweetness); in general, my goal was to soften the flavor, give it a summery feel and just a little crunch (thank you, toasted almonds!). Best of all was the fact that, in revisiting my old “pattern” (I used to make risotto at least once every three weeks), I got to combine the best of the basic risotto recipe with my own cravings and newly discovered culinary inclinations. In the terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, that might be what they call a breakthrough.
Three-Tomato Risotto with Mint and Toasted Almonds
Basic risotto recipe slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef
1 quart stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 finely chopped shallots
3 cloves garlic
sea salt and black pepper
14 oz. arborio rice
1/2 cup red wine (I used an already opened bottle of Merlot)
4 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. Pecorino-Romano cheese, plus 2 oz. for sprinkling
1/3 cup toasted almonds
1-2 canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, whole or cut into halves (depending on the size)
2 tsp. freshly chopped mint leaves and about a teaspoon more for garnishing
1/2 cup loosely packed arugula, roughly chopped
-Toast the almonds and set aside.
-Heat the stock.
-In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a separate pan and add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes.
-Add the garlic and, after another couple of minutes, when the vegetables have softened, add the arborio rice.
-Turn up the heat now and don’t leave the pan; you must keep stirring.
-While stirring continuously, fry the rice. You don’t want any color, so make sure the temperature isn’t too high. Keep the rice moving and, after 2-3 minutes, it will begin to look translucent.
-At this stage, add the red wine, stirring as it hits the pan.
-Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of stock and a pinch of salt.
-Turn down the heat to a medium-high simmer.
-Keep adding more stock, one ladle at a time, and let it absorb into the rice before adding the next. This process should take anywhere from 15-20 minutes.
-At this stage, mix in the tomatoes and the 2 teaspoons of mint leaves.
-Once you’ve finished adding the stock and the rice is tender, but still chewy, remove the pot from the heat.
-Add the butter, Pecorino Romano, arugula and toasted almonds. Stir gently.
-Serve and watch as it oozes across your plate! Garnish with extra mint leaves and/or cheese.