Love and paradise!
Those are desired states for body and soul wishing to live a fulfilled and satisfied life, free of challenges, free of doubt. At least it seems to be a common sentiment amongst humans. To me, such states imply other connotations: a refined focus, lively observation, widened attention, and heightened physical and cognitive activities. I do prefer challenge and wonder over obvious culmination through fulfillment and satisfaction. Creatively bursting with expression and impressions through music and sounds, the arts, wording and languages, and everything in the palate experience, I rejoice immensely in the detail of things, and the notion of their never ending unfolding.
As I began choosing and gathering the ingredients for my last risotto, a sudden perception thought became key: cook with the intent of tasting the individual ingredients as soloists. Expecting different ingredients to marry in an alchemistic manner into a harmonious taste compound, by weakening their potency, was not my wish but rather an exponential taste increase through individual density. The garlic cloves were not only to remain whole but in their sheaths, and the Brussels sprouts uncut.
Furthermore, I was interested in the mental effort involved when focusing on each individual flavor. It was to be the experience of tasting rice, infused with wine and parmesan cheese, apart from the consistency and particular flavor of a Brussels sprout, and yet apart from that of a garlic clove. One joy is to recognize hints of garlic, or a clear layer throughout. A very different, and more exquisite joy is to dwell on the gustatorial beauty of garlic as a main character, and sense it as rich paste, slurping it out of the skin.
BRUSSELS SPROUT RISOTTO (for four servings)
- one cup arborio rice (or carnaroli, or Vialone Nano)
- eleven garlic cloves — in sheaths, unpeeled
- fifteen Brussels sprouts
- one large onion
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup parmesan
- ½ cup white wine (I have used mostly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chablis in the past)
- 1.5 liter beef broth
Do not rinse the rice beforehand.
Do not rush it. The risotto principle is slow cooking.
Do not multitask! Stay around the rice at all times, for two reasons:
~ it needs to cook fairly consistently, for which one should regularly pay attention to the fluidity (bouillon amount)
~ this is love ingrained, meaning dedication, and cooking should not happen as a side activity but as the one activity
Do not use cheap wine. Historically, risotto was made by the poor but not by the poor in taste.
My beginnings making risotto in the 1990s, were in the company of the book on the famous Italian dish, by Valentina Harris. That was two centuries after risotto became a concept, and several more after rice became a local produce in northern Italy.
While on the road one day, and thus without the book, I dared cooking it freely for the first time — as I do ever since. Hence, you should feel free to consult a recipe, if you do not feel 100% on par with my instructions. But beware, there is not, and never has been one single way of cooking risotto. As much as it is a science based art, it originated as peasant food, when the poor would gather rests and combine these leftovers with rice, stock, butter, saffron and cheese. And I must add that my usage of cheese clearly surpasses the one in an Italian kitchen. When it comes to parmesan, pecorino, and manchego, I am wildly a free thinker, giver and taker.
- In a large pot, melt the butter slowly at less than medium heat. It is meant to melt, not fry.
- Add chopped onion, and complete garlic cloves. It is customary to chop the onions quite fine but I also like the larger chunks that allow to feel their crispness and own taste. Their fluid will still infuse the rice well.
- The onion should not fry. It should only become translucent.
- Add rice, and let it become translucent as well, not fried.
- ‘Extinguish’ with white wine.
- Shortly afterwards, add the Brussels sprouts, letting them cook for two minutes.
- Begin adding bouillon one ladle at the time. Once the first has been absorbed, add the second, and so on. The ingredients are to cook at low heat and very slowly. Do not add liquid too quickly but do not let it get dry, otherwise it will stick.
- Once about half of the fluid has been used, add the Parmesan.
- Continue adding one ladle at the time after that.
- It should take about 45 minutes cooking time.
- Turn the heat off.
- You may add 2 spoons of butter or olive oil, and let it rest about 5-10 minutes.