Risotto: food and art
One of my favourite things to cook is risotto. I think I started, years ago, with my sister’s Jamie Oliver recipe book, checking back every few seconds to check I wasn’t going to mess it up.
This is odd to think of, now that I can make risotto while reading a novel.
I love risotto because I can make it without advance planning – so long as I have rice and stock and a few veggies in the fridge, I can basically just use whatever else is lying around.
Never a bad batch yet.
First thing you do is chop up the veggies. I usually start with onions, garlic and/or shallots. Whichever you prefer/have available.
1. Chop onions/garlic/shallots and fry in butter.
Next goes in any veggies that need a longer time to cook – carrots come to mind.
2. Chop other veggies and fry. (If I’m feeling bad about the amount of butter we’re going through I might use olive oil… except for the mushrooms. Of course.)
IMPORTANT: Remove veggies from frypan when nearly cooked.
Once they’re browned and soft, but not quite done, empty the frypan into a bowl. I fry the veggies in batches, ie. shallots and carrots, capsicum and courgettes, mushrooms on their own (cause they’ll make everything gray). Each batch is tipped into the bowl when they’re done, and put aside.
3. Cook up meat. You can fry it in the same pan, in most cases – bacon, chicken, sausages (sliced up), fish… but some things might work better added at the end, eg. small pieces of smoked salmon or scallops.
3. Using the same frypan, which is probably now decorated with browned oil/butter and bits of onion, briefly fry your short grain rice (about 1/3 of a cup per person, depending on how much other stuff you’re putting in and if you want leftovers for lunch… you do.)
4. After a minute or so add half a cup of water.
5. Make up a cup of stock. I use chicken stock powder because it’s what I have on hand (and never a bad batch yet). I only use 1/2 a cube for a 2 person meal, but my butter is salted. I find a whole cube makes it too salty, but go with your personal preference of course.
6. Stir rice and add stock occasionally. On top of the 1/2 cup water and 1 cup stock I will do another cup of something – water, white wine, sometimes a dash of lemon juice. Some people use milk or cream but I find it rich enough without.
7. Once it’s all thick, the rice soft, the liquid not quite all gone, I add the veges and meat to the rice and stir it all together, cooking it together for a while till everything is hot again. If people aren’t ready to eat, or someone’s stuck in traffic on the A10 as often happens in our house, then you can just turn it down, or off, and then on again a few minutes before serving. To a point, risotto gets better the longer it’s cooked.
8. A few things are best added at the end: cherry tomatoes, spinach (you want it to wilt, not become pond-scum-ish), squares of feta cheese, pre-cooked meats that you don’t want to overcook.
One of our favourite variations is jumbalaya(ish). You use a tin of tomatoes instead of one of the cups of water, use chorizo sausages for your meat, and season the whole lot with some chilli.
So what does all this have to do with art? Well, I’m a firm believer that cooking is potentially very creative. It’s one of those daily-grind tasks that can be a real drag, or a real blast. It can also be easy-peasy or mission impossible.
Preferably, it’s on the easy side and fun as well, right? So I’m a big fan of recipes like this. I take advantage of a fantastic local market, spending more than I probably should on delicious fresh veg, great cuts of meat, and a vast variety of cheeses. I can be creative, not to mention healthy, without making a huge time or effort commitment. And if I’m careful it needn’t cost much.
Part of this risotto recipe requires both hands – chopping and frying up all those veggies at the start. But once the rice is going I can multi task.
Multi-tasking is one of those art-killer things, a real danger to your enjoyment and the quality of whatever you are creating. Much as I love watching tv while I work, I’m going to be honest and say it’s not very smart. My work suffers dramatically and I don’t get that buzz of satisfaction from achieving something.
But you can absolutely multi-task while stirring liquid into risotto rice. It takes ages and it requires nearly no concentration at all. I like to read while I’m doing it. I’ve once or twice managed to write while doing it, popping back and forth from laptop to stove every few minutes. My head can stay in the writing game, even if my fingers aren’t typing.
I can also delegate this part of cooking dinner to anyone tall enough to reach the stove. Unfortunately Louis, at 21 months, is out. But my husband, or a visitor, can jump in and do this bit while I breastfeed, if the need arises. To be fair, my husband is a great cook and could do the whole meal, except that while I’m cooking is a good time for him to play with the kids. Plus, he tends to get home a bit late and we’d be eating after eight o’clock. We’re not that French. Eating that late is an exception, though it is becoming more and more common.
So, to summarize…
– food can be art, without going to great lengths.
– mindless tasks are opportunities to think about art, and sometimes to multi-task and DO ART.
– use your team. If you’re lucky enough to have people around you who understand the importance of your art, and who understand the challenge of fitting it into your life, then ask them for help!