This past weekend was a bit of a girls-only weekend. Toby went up to Tahoe for a ritualized type of weekend wherein men gather to celebrate the impending nuptials of another man. Yeah, you know what I mean. (They seem to have mostly behaved.) And yeah, Jacky is a boy and was indeed home with me, but I declared it a Girl Weekend. Whee!
What does that entail, when you're 36 years old and have a toddler who keeps to an early bedtime? Nothing too crazy, more like catching up on some of my favorite things: cooking and chatting with a great girlfriend, drinking interesting wine (sparkling red), watching (and reciting, and giggling at) Pride and Prejudice (BBC version, not recent movie), sipping milky tea, lots of reading, a trip to the very busy Saturday Farmers Market (Toby hates crowds), and foggy walks in the canyon... also, some serious cleaning (random).
And cooking a special lunch.
When I learned Toby would be leaving town for the weekend, one of the first things I whispered to myself was, "RISOTTO." It's not that he doesn't like it. I'm not sure what could possess him, but he claims to be a little "meh" about this lovely dish. Yeah, it might be totally 90s, but... Gah, I LOVE risotto. The prepping, the stirring, the unctuous yumminess of it. The fact that you can throw just about anything in it... after all, it takes quite a lot to mess up vegetables, rice, cheese and butter.
This time it was a foggy summer garden risotto: baby summer squash, leeks, tiny tomatoes and herbs. I've made a lot of risottos, and I can honestly say this was the absolute best one I've ever made, and not just because I pulled up and washed soil off all the produce. Risotto demands that you pay attention: yes, stirring but also observing the texture, plus a bit of tasting. Things just clicked this weekend.
Foggy Summer Garden Risotto
makes 2-4 portions, depending on your appetite*
4 - 4.5 c. good chicken stock
3 T. olive oil, divided
4-6 baby sunburst summer squash, cubed
2 small leeks, trimmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced, with white and light green parts separated from dark green
1 c. arborio rice
1 glug of dry vermouth
small handful of cherry/pear tomatoes, diced
2 T. unsalted butter
sea salt and black pepper
2 T. chopped chives
1 T. picked thyme leaves
big handful of grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
:: Heat chicken stock to a bare simmer in a medium pot to the rear of the stove. Have a ladle ready. Be content to spend some quality time with your stove (this is a good thing!).
:: In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add squash and a pinch sea salt and pepper. Sautée until slightly softened. Add white and light green leek slices and sautée further until mixture is softened but not browned. Reserve to a bowl.
:: Wipe any squash or leek bits from pot. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add rice and stir constantly until slightly translucent and grains make a sound like glass beads in the pot. Add a good glug of vermouth and stir until evaporated.
:: Using ladle, tip in a 1/2 c or so of the hot stock and stir constantly until almost absorbed. Continue doing so until 2 or 3 ladles of stock remain to be added. At this point, add the squash/leek mixture back to the risotto, as well as half of the tomatoes and 1/3 of the dark green leek slices. Continue adding remaining stock.
:: When final ladle of stock is almost absorbed (check rice along the way for al dente doneness--if it's not perfect, keep adding more hot stock), stir in half of the remaining dark green leek slices, plus the butter and most of the herbs (reserve some for garnish). Stir in most of the parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
:: Check the texture: it should be oozy, wanting to lazily spread on a plate with each grain suspended in a buffer of liquid, without being either soupy or sticky. Add tiny bits of stock or butter as needed to thin, or keep cooking to thicken.
:: Spoon onto warm plates. Garnish with remaining tomatoes, leek slices, herbs, more cheese and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil and more salt and pepper. Serve immediately -- risotto is best right away!
* The quantity can easily be doubled per this ratio: 2 c. rice + 7-8 c. stock. Adjust quantity of produce and seasonings accordingly.
SO, what about you? Risotto: yummy or meh?