I've been at work in my new study all day, a room that has become the favorite hangout of the cats and that also has become, truth be told, my favorite hangout, too. Our apartment now possesses that wonderful lived-in-one-month feeling: still clean and fairly organized, but homey, too. Muscle memory has begun to shift to new faucet handles and furniture placement, and the smells and sounds are becoming familiar--a blend of our own soaps and spices and candles along with the wood and paint scent of this old former rectory.
Soon I'll share photos of this unique place. For now, I'll tell you that my workshop has a special step that leads up to a French door. That door in turn leads out to a glass porch which has become the home of plants and herbs and a little pottery fountain filled with favorite stones. I let the fountain run all afternoon while I work and the cats nap. There is a comfort in this even as I work on writing that is not always pleasant or easy.
And then there is life with which to contend. I worry too much. I fret about things I cannot control. I long to protect the people I love. We all do this, yes, and it's part of what makes us whole. When I can't fix problems, when I can't make things right, when I can't help someone get well again or find them a new job or give them whatever it is they need for body and soul, I reach for what I know: a word or two of comfort, a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl. I measure what I can give, and try to make each portion a little larger, a little fuller, a little richer than before. What more can we offer in hard times than our best selves?
In terms of giving, I know of few things more comforting than a bowl of risotto after a long hard day. I made this one, and Todd and I scooped spoonfuls into our mouths as fast as we could, dipping straight into the pot for seconds. It's a variation of a wonderful recipe by Nigella Lawson (from Nigella Bites). Mine takes many, many liberties, and is very playful. You can vary risotto to suit your tastes and what you've got in your pantry. I've made dozens and dozens of risottos, and I rarely make any two the same!
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side
- Very finely mince one scallion or a couple of shallots and one stalk of celery.
- In a large saucepan, saute the minced vegetables in one Tablespoon olive oil and two Tablespoons butter.
- Add 1 1/3 cup arborio rice. Saute for a minute or so.
- At this point I begin ladling in warm vegetable stock. I make my own stock, but you can use good store-bought stock. It's important to keep it warm on the stove and ladle it in as needed. The amount you'll need will vary depending on the weather and how humid a day it is. As you add a ladleful of stock, stir the risotto. Add another ladle when the mixture thickens. Keep letting the rice absorb the stock before you add more liquid. Some people like relatively soupy risotto while others like it thicker. That's up to you. The most important thing is that the rice be cooked all the way through. It should be creamy when you taste it, but with just a little chew, like great al dente pasta. It takes less than a half hour to reach that wonderful creamy consistency.
- Once the rice is nearly finished, I stir in the zest of a lemon and some finely chopped fresh thyme and parsley. Basil would be nice, too. Nigella uses rosemary, but I like milder herbs for this.
- At this point, I take the risotto off the heat.
- In a little bowl I whisk an egg yolk, a few Tablespoons of sour cream or heavy cream, the juice of half a lemon, and a few Tablespoons of grated parmesano reggiano, then I pour this whole mixture into the risotto.
- Give it a stir, spoon it into bowls.
- Top each bowl with a little more grated cheese, a sprinkling of the fresh herbs, salt and freshly grated pepper, and a little bit of butter. Let the butter pool on top.
- Sigh at the sight of your beautiful creation, and then dig in. Pure comfort in a bowl.