Tales of Risotto is one of those little gems that you will enjoy for years. Written by Jean Govoni Salvadore and Luciano Parolari, Tales says it will lead you on Culinary Adventures from Villa d’Este, a magnificent hotel on the shores of Lake Como. Chef Parolari is known as the King of Risotto. That is good background.
Here is the bottom line: we made Risotto with Gorgonzola Cheese last weekend. It was added immediately to the menu for Suzen’s events at Cooking by the Book. We want everyone to sample this heavenly dish. And, Suzen and I will be working our way through the 50+ other recipes in this slick book.
If I say Italian food, what pops into your head? Pizza, certainly. Pasta, of course. Rice? No, not rice. But in the North of Italy, rice a the staple and risotto, made with Carnaroli rice and ideally homemade stock, has been a traditional way to start a meal. These days, risotto can still be a first course or a side dish or the whole meal.
Tales provides some risotto history, many tips, and recipes organized by the key extra ingredient:
- Vegetable and Fruit
- Poultry and Meat
- Seasonal [Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer]
For foreigners, risotto was a “hidden” dish until just the past few decades. You may have sampled it in a restaurant. You probably have not tried it at home. With pasta, you boil water and toss the pasta in. With risotto, there’s a half hour of work. You are going to be standing by the stove, adding stock to the rice and stirring. It’s worth every second. All you really need to do is have a great bottle of wine on the side, a glass in one hand, and that stirring spoon in the other.
The Carnaroli rice specifically picks up the flavors of the added ingredients. So in Tales you will find risotto with apples, artichokes, asparagus, champagne, smoked salmon, Proseco and oysters, lemon and shrimp, spring vegetables, chicken livers, green peas and prosciutto, … You get the concept. Some of the recipe ideas here are classics. Some are the creation of Chef Parolari, creations that will be classics.
Physically, Tales is beautifully crafted book. High grade paper with a very readable font and lots of white space. The photos are inspiring. This is a book you will enjoy picking up. The only issue here is the confusion: there are many things here you want to try all at once. So, I suggest you do what Suzen and I are: do a recipe every couple of weeks and work your way through the book, season by season, ingredient by ingredient.
Start with this Gorgonzola recipe. You can do it as a main course or a side. It’s rich so the perfect pairing would be protein, a strong protein. Lamb chops for sure. Or, and please don’t laugh at this, hamburgers. We make our burgers with 80% mean and 20% fat — because the flavor is in the fat. We had this risotto with a deep red wine — Sauterne is recommend by the chef but we had these fabulous burgers. We felt perfectly Italian.
Risotto with Gorgonzola Cheese
Yield: serves 4 to 6
- 6 cups chicken stock [homemade if at all possible]
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups Carnaroli Rice
- 6 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, then reduce the heat keep at a bare simmer.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until every grain is coated with butter.
Add 1 cup of the stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock, about ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding more stock. Cook until the rice is just gender and creamy but still al dente, 15 to 20 minutes. You may have leftover stock.
Combine the Gorgonzola cheese with the cream in a bowl. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Gorgonzola cheese mixture. Add the diced tomatoes, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the risotto rest for a minute or two and serve piping hot.
If I say “rice” your mind may immediately conjure up images of Chinese or other Asian cuisines. Rice is just not the first thing that pops into our Italy-means-only-pasta minds. But in the north of Italy, short grain rice is the staple and risotto — which literally means “little rice” — comes in an infinite variety of dishes. Risotto is cooked with broth, enriched with cheese of some sort, and then amplified with other ingredients: meat, fish, or vegetables. You may well have had spring risotto with asparagus tips beckoning your next bite.
It’s those different additions, in different proportions, that give you the opportunity for truly an unlimited number of risotto combinations.
Now, unlimited is the good news. Having a deadline to actually pick one recipe for an upcoming dinner party, well, that could have been a challenge. We have a shelf of Italian cookbooks, each one excellent and almost every one offering a chapter of risottos.
Given that deadline to pick one recipe, I cut the Gordian knot. Biba Caggiano is a fabulous chef, author, and TV personality based in Sacramento. Her cookbooks are staples, books that you can always depend on. So, I was scanning the recipes in Italy al Dente and found this header note: “If I have a dinner party at my house, this is the risotto I would choose.” That was just the advice I needed to end my search. Suzen read the recipe, agreed, and we were off to the store.
Was Biba right? Is this “The” risotto recipe? When I was served the dish, I took one bite, got up, and went for seconds. No one was going to beat me to having more.
This risotto, with its hint of smoky salmon and the bare sweetness of the mascarpone, is culinary paradise. It is a perfect dish. Not the just the ingredients, but the balance that is created in the flavors by the proportions Biba suggests.
This risotto is very easy to make, and I’m sure you will enjoy it. Oh, the recipe calls for vegetable broth or canned chicken broth. Suzen made one modification here: we always make stock from left over feasts, so we used turkey stock we had made ourselves at Christmas.
You can buy stock in nice metal cans, or you can make your own, using that free range turkey carcass, and fresh vegetables and just the seasonings you want. I’ll post some stock recipes in the fall when you’re more likely to be roasting whole birds. This stock is a secret to making a perfect risotto dish even more perfect. Yes, that may not be good logic or grammar, but culinarily “more perfect” is possible.
Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Mascarpone
Serves: 4 to 6
6 cups vegetable broth or 3 cups canned chicken stock mixed with 3 cups of water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup thoroughly washed leek, white part only
2 cups imported Arborio rice other rice for risotto
½ cup dry white wine [we used leftover white sparkling]
3 to 4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
2 to 3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Heat the broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the leek and cook, stirring, until the leek is pale yellow and quite soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir quickly for a minute or two until it is well coated with the butter. Add the wine and stir until the wine is almost reduced. Add ½ cup simmering broth or just enough to barely cover the rice. Cook, stirring, until the broth is absorbed almost completely. Continue cooking, adding broth and stirring the rice in this manner for another 16 to 17 minutes.
When the last addition of broth is almost all reduced, add the salmon and stir for a minute or two. Add the mascarpone and the parsley. Stir quickly until the cheese is melted and the rice is a moist, creamy consistency. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.
Source: Italy al Dente by Biba Caggiano