I made risotto for dinner recently. Standing at the stove, patiently stirring each cupful of broth into the pot, I was reminded why this dish is a pleasure to cook.
For me, risotto requires a certain mindset. It is the kind of dish I make when I want to be in the kitchen and cook. This doesn’t disqualify it as a weeknight dinner option, per se, but if you are starving or cranky you shouldn’t make this dish. Fix something else. Mainly, because you can’t rush the process.
On this particular night, feeling free from responsibility—the manuscript was with the editor and the chapel talk was over—I landed on risotto. With a bottle of opened chardonnay in the frig and some sweet potatoes that needed to be used, I had the makings for risotto.
I started with roasting the sweet potatoes. Then I chopped some onion and garlic while warming turkey broth on the stove. Partway through this process, I realized I had mistakenly thought the bag of rice in the pantry was arborio rice, which is the rice of choice when making risotto. A quick search on Google told me that as long as I used a starchy rice, I could substitute something else. I had half a bag of Israeli couscous and half a bag of barley. Since both were considered starchy, I tossed them in the pan after cooking the onion and garlic in some olive oil. Next came a cup of chardonnay.
Then the stirring began—the slow, meditative process of turning hard kernels of grain into a softened morsel of flavor and goodness. Most risottos call for 6 cups of some type of broth. You don’t have to stir it constantly, but you don’t want to leave the kitchen and fold laundry either. The main rule of thumb is to add more liquid after the previous cupful has been absorbed. I must give credit to Shauna Niequist because I use her recipe for making risotto. In her book Bread and Wine, she says you want a strong simmer during this part of the process. Sinkholes, but not a boil. From here to the finished product, you should allow 25-30 minutes.
I pulled a dining room chair into the kitchen and poured myself the last of the chardonnay. Sitting by the stove, I reread parts of Bread and Wine and fell in love with cooking and eating all over again. I was present in that moment, not worrying about what else needed to be done later that night.
After the last cupful of broth was absorbed, I added the roasted sweet potatoes, some toasted pecans, and a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Some salt and pepper to taste finished the dish. In addition to the risotto, I roasted some broccoli and served some goat cheese with crackers that were leftover from a party.
This weeknight dinner felt a bit more special than normal. For me, most dinners during the week are spent in the dining hall at school. When I do cook, I often resort to dishes in my repertoire that require little thinking on my part. (These dishes are important to have too!) However, this particular night was an opportunity to savor the time and space to cook and relax in my kitchen. Sometimes, those “out-of-the-ordinary” dinners bring gratitude and joy to an otherwise ordinary day.