Monday, October 12, 2009

The Angry Risotto: A Parable

Late one afternoon, near the beginning of the season, I made some risotto for an open air communal dinner. I tried something new, a sweet potato, spinach, feta, and pine nut risotto. A very vegetarian dish to be sure. Before I started cooking, in the middle of a perfectly enjoyable afternoon, I received a blood boiling text from the ex. I fumed as I started to cook, chopped the potatoes, sauteed the onion and garlic, boiled up the vegetable stock and roasted the nuts. And boy did I roast those nuts. I had been looking forward to cooking the risotto, but now it was just a chore I resented. In the movie 'Like Water for Chocolate', a heartbroken woman prepares a dish for a wedding banquet, all the while crying into the large simmering pot in front of her. When the guests eat the dish she's prepared, they all start to cry, thinking of their own lost loves as they consume her tears. My risotto was not sad, just very angry. It was received blandly by those who ate it, no one raved. Someone suggested it lacked flavour and that I should have roasted the nuts differently. There wasn't enough 'stuff' in it. I was just glad there was no fighting among the diners after they ate the angry risotto. But when you mix that kind of anger with vegetarian risotto, you get something sort of dull and unsatisfying, like anger itself.

Fast forward to now. On a recent trip to the grocery store, I walked by a beautiful display of Italian ingredients: squid ink pasta, expensive balsamic vinegars, and things I'd never heard of before. I spotted a charming little jar labelled "Crema Tartuffo": white truffle cream. The ingredient itself was unfamiliar to me, but what a thing to build a dish around I thought... And so I decided to make white truffle risotto for our dockside Thanksgiving dinner. I googled the recipe and found a variety of ways to make this dish, which the internet unanimously hailed as decadent and delicious. On a brisk and sunny Sunday afternoon, in great spirits, I poured myself a tall glass of Pinot Noir and set about cooking the risotto. Paul Simon played in the background, upbeat and infectious. I felt calm, confident and in charge. I used more chicken stock then I normally would for flavour. My shallots and garlic were finely chopped. Lots of wine. Heaps of mushrooms. Lashings of butter went in. And so did a big pile of expensive grated parmesan. A generous pour of full fat cream. And to finish it all off, a whopping dollop of white truffle cream. This was a luxurious and heartfelt risotto with nothing spared. It should have been served with a side of Lipitor. And it was a hit. The hostess had two servings, one for dinner and one for dessert. It's difficult to draw attention from the bird of honour at a Thanksgiving dinner, but women from the end of the table came up and raved. What is that dish? What's the seasoning? I said it's white truffle risotto of course; pigs find truffles buried in the ground. Well it's divine they said. So rich. Simple but extravagant. Understated but over the top. And that's how my risotto evolved in the course of a season. And me too, Grasshopper.