Ciao'd while keeping an eye on my garden for hummingbirds.
I have a horror hangover. Fueled by the unnuanced vitriol of the Republican Convention to the killings in way too many places near and far, I wrestle with the weight of my heart, the stones in my soul, and the unanswered questions crushing my brain. All of which magnify the allure of the kitchen and cooking - and this risotto.
If you're a cook, you already know this, but it bears repeating. Cooking can be calm, restorative, and very rewarding. Shelling peas, husking corn, stirring a risotto, and rolling out pastry dough are all simple tasks that require us to use our hands and participate in a time-honored tradition that, by its very nature, causes us to slow our normally harried pace of living and focus on the present.
When it’s time to cook, I don’t answer the phone or turn on the TV. Sometimes I listen to music but, more often, I simply revel in the sounds of onions sautéing or tomato sauce bubbling. I enjoy the comforting (and silent) presence of my dogs, who incidentally double as spill picker-uppers and enthusiastic taste testers.
I use cooking equipment that makes me happy. Good-quality equipment does produce better results but, just as important for me; it's about the look and feel of the equipment. I love my heavy restaurant cookware with its black anodized aluminum exterior, sturdy stainless handles, and what looks to me like fire-branded seals that affix the handles to the pan. Likewise, the old cast-iron fry pan that has been with me for ages and the olive wood spoon with the handle that has shaped itself to my grip (not really, it just feels this way) provide the familiarity that, in these crazed days, comforts me.
And finally, I keep my treasures in plain sight. They connect me to loved ones and memories. An antique earthenware bowl from my mother filled with oranges and lemons sits on the island . A green-rimmed enamel colander from my great-grandmother cradles scarlet tomatoes ready to be rinsed. The aforementioned wooden spoon shares space with other cooking utensils in a crock on the counter. And a cream-colored, animal-patterned Emma Bridgewater jar that I found in London eons ago holds the kosher salt next to the stovetop.
Life’s hard. It’s harder for many than it is for me. I’m thinking we all could use a hair of the dog that bit us – in the form of this soul-satisfying risotto with olives and lemon (vodka).
RISOTTO WITH BLACK OLIVES, LEMON AND VODKA
Lemon vodka has a spirited kick that balances the earthiness of the olives and deepens the risotto's overall flavor.
6 to 7 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup lemon vodka (such as Absolut Citron)
1 cup pitted, slivered black olives, such as Kalamata
Grated zest of 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives, for garnish
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan; cover and keep at a simmer.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the onion and shallot and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat with the oil, for 3 minutes. Add the vodka and stir until absorbed, about 1 minute.
Slowly add 1 cup of the hot stock. Stir and let simmer, reducing the heat if necessary, until the rice absorbs the stock. Continue in this way, adding stock 1/2 cup at a time and stirring frequently, until the rice is creamy and al dente, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add the olives and cook to heat through, about 1 minute. Stir in the lemon zest and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper, sprinkle with chives, and serve immediately with Parmesan for the table. Risotto waits for no (wo)man.