When things get tough, I read. I am a serial reader. I like a lot of books by the same author (preferably a dead one, who has written about another era) so I can lose myself. After I got through the whole Jane Austen/Mrs. Gaskell/some of George Elliot that’s not too depressing universe, I reached for Trollope. He wrote a TON. It lasted a while. When those authors ran out entirely (and they do), I became obsessed with Georgette Heyer.
Right now, I am all about Nero Wolfe. He was my father’s favorite fictional detective and we have almost every single mystery of his, so I am reading them in order and filling in from used book stores when I hit a gap. Nero Wolfe and my father were very similar in many ways — physically and mentally. Geniuses with zero patience for fools, they even shared a name (although my father’s middle name was spelled Woolf). Nero Wolfe loves food to the point of abandon. He devotes his entire life to eating, drinking beer, and growing orchids. One of the rare times he leaves his brownstone on West 35th street, he is in search of a recipe.
Risotto isn’t hard to make. Provided you use arborio rice and never stop stirring, it’s foolproof. It’s just like making 30 minute (or real) oatmeal. In fact, I was making these two at the same time. Risotto just means rice in Italian. Nothing fancy — no skill required — just rice.
If you want authentic Italian cooking tips, stop by the Bartolini Kitchens blog, written by this natty fellow. His are family recipes, from his Zia and other older relatives, and his prose is as witty and sharp as his photos and recipes are professional. I used his recipe for a base and added random stuff and I encourage you to do the same. You honestly can’t mess up risotto unless you stop stirring. Which makes it the perfect thing to cook when you are feeling neurotic (or maybe that’s just me). It requires your attendance but not your attention. It’s comforting to make and comforting to eat, like reading a cozy mystery set in the far off 1940s.
Four Mushroom Risotto with Clams
adapted from the Bartolini Kitchens
3 cups of arborio (short grained) rice
2 cups of white wine
6 cups of broth (I used beef)
1/2 cup each of 4 different types of mushrooms — I used two dried varieties and soaked them overnight in more white wine
Sea salt to taste
A few strands of saffron (optional)
2 cans of clams with juices they are packed in
2 fresh tomatoes
Heat your broth in a big sauce pan but don’t let it boil. I cheated and used hot water from the boiling water tap and one of those fancy broth bases in a jar. You should make your own, preferably from an animal you have killed yourself.
On a different burner nearby, heat some olive oil in a big skillet. I used a cast iron skillet but I’m not sure if that’s necessary at all. Sauté mushrooms and whatever other veg you are using. Garlic and onion would be traditional here. Once the mushrooms are starting to really wilt and be nice and golden, add the rice and toast it lightly. Add the wine just as the rice is getting a bit brown and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan.
Here’s the part where you never stop stirring. Start adding broth, enough to swamp the rice but not overflow the skillet, and stir it as it absorbs. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I throw in my saffron towards the end, around when I add the clams (and juice), the dried mushrooms that had been revived with wine, and a couple of chopped tomatoes for color. How do you know you are near the end? The risotto is starting to taste nice. That’s also how you know you are done, about a half an hour later. All of your broth is absorbed and the risotto is creamy and delectable, with just enough fight when you bite into a grain so that you know the rice is not overcooked.
This recipe serves four or six or just one person who is a pig and loves leftovers because risotto is much better the next day.