For me, risotto is one of those simple life pleasures. It’s a comfort food on a cold day or the perfect side dish to any grilled meat in the summer. The only trick with risotto is making sure it is “al dente” and not mushy hence the necessity to hover over the stove stirring and tasting consistently, adding liquid very slowly.
I was so lucky to learn to make risotto from my Italian aunt in the Piedmont area of Italy. I mean, that is risotto country so I better learn from the best or not carry a Northern Italian last name, simple as that, period.
We were on one of our jaunts to visit the family and I made the “casual” comment about loving risotto. Well, let me tell you, don’t ever make a “casual” comment about anything food related to an Italian relative. I had no idea what I had released.
First came the phone calls to the other family relatives “intensely” communicating something about “non hai fatto risotto per la famiglia? Mai????? Mama mia! Then the phone slams down and another call is made, same question but this time the phone slams down with “Ah Madonna!” And the list continues…..each time the same question and the ending disgust. Yikees, all I mentioned was that I liked risotto, I didn’t need any relatives killed over some cooked rice.
We sat quietly as my aunt stomped around, shooed her children to the small grocery store down the street, and mumbled obscenities to herself. At this point, I just wanted a drink.
After about 30 minutes the children arrived and my aunt gazed out into the room where I sat and said, “viene qui!” and I quickly obeyed and came into the kitchen.
What ensued next was a sheer blessing in disguise, an afternoon filled with loving determination to show me (and feed us) the perfect risotto dish. The instruction began with a description of every ingredient (the proper ones) to use to make risotto. The rice, the homemade stock, the onions, the wine, the butter, the parmigiano cheese, this is the base and from here, it’s personal choice what else one wishes to add. During our lesson, she chose veggies from her garden. I took notes like a mad woman and drank in all of her divine wisdom.
As the time progressed, I knew I was receiving something most people wished for, instruction from the true masters of Italian cuisine, the ones that hold the keys to generations before and the knowledge of all that is passed down through the kitchen and I was the lucky recipient.
I learned to use the perfect pot, to heat the stock, to sauté the onions first, (veggies here if desired), add the rice, then the wine, and then patience begins while the stock gets added, ½ cup at a time and stirred until absorbed and tasted. This continues until the perfect “bite” occurs and not a minute before. It is then pulled off the stove, butter added and then parmigiano stirred in……
The final dish is decadent, creamy and piping hot, my mouth was watering. The final demand, risotto HAS to be eaten right away, we were happy to follow command.
My aunt spooned it into a big bowl and topped with a little more parmigiano. I watched as the steam came off the rice and the cheese melted instantly. My mouth was watering. It didn’t take long to devour.
This recipe is an ode to my aunt who took that simple comment and taught me an art form. I will never forget that day and I always hear her instructions every time I recreate her masterpiece.
I decided to add porcini mushrooms, pancetta, and fried sage to her recipe and use roasted delicata squash from our garden to serve it in. It’s a 100% edible and makes for a great presentation.
A SPECIAL THANKS TO MY NEW FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER, MY NIECE RACHEL! SHE ROCKS!!
- 4 delicata squash, cut in half, seeded, and roasted, can use acorn or other squash
- 2 cups of carnaroli rice, can use arborio rice
- 2 shallots, diced
- 8 slices of pancetta, diced
- 15 porcini mushooms, sliced thin, can use shitake mushrooms
- 15 sage leaves, fried in a little truffle oil, 5 broken into pieces and others left whole
- 7 cups of homemade chicken stock, can use canned
- ½ cup pinot grigio wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil
- 2 T butter
- Freshly grated parmigiano cheese
- Turn oven on to 350. Place cut squash, face down and roast til soft when fork is inserted. Set aside
- In a pot that is wider than it is tall, turn onto medium heat.
- Add 2 T olive oil and heat.
- Add shallot and pancetta and stir with wooden spoon until shallot is translucent.
- Add mushroom and stir.
- Add a little salt and pepper.
- Cook until mushroom begins to soften and add broken sage pieces.
- Add rice and stir.
- Add wine and stir til dissolved.
- Start adding stock, ½ cup at a time and stir til dissolved. Keep tasting until rice reaches "al dente"
- Pull off stove and add butter, stir
- Add ½ cup of parmigiano
- Spoon into each half of squash, top with some more cheese and one piece of whole sage leaf. Repeat til all squash are filled.
- Serve immediately