When I was growing up, my southern-Italian mother never made risotto. To this day she vehemently refuses to eat it. Some sort of southern pride thing, I think. I didn’t even know what risotto was until I spent a semester in Padova, located in northern Italy, over 10 years ago. But once I settled into my new “home,” I was inundated with it. Whether cooked with seafood, mushrooms, or greens, risotto was served all over town.
In addition to my high level of risotto ignorance, I had barely ever cooked anything before arriving in Padova. Luckily, about two months into the semester, one of the host mothers offered a one-day cooking class. That afternoon my schoolmates and I learned how to make penne amatriciana, eggplant parmigiano, torta di mele, and risotto ai carciofi (artichokes). It was one of the turning points in my young life, where I learned some crucial tools that helped me fend for myself. Risotto, in a way, helped me grow up.
Unlike my mother, I became quite fond of this creamy, luxurious dish, and over the years I’ve created many variations, using ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, butternut squash, fennel, and even apples.
But sometime along the way I stopped making it. I don’t really know what happened. Jim, without trying my version, didn’t think he liked risotto very much. Maybe I tired of all the stirring. Risotto requires a bit of work for a dish that doesn’t translate into leftovers very well. And then I just forgot about it for while.
But this past winter I picked up the riso arborio again. I began a renewed quest to vary our dinner menu, and I was more than willing to build up my arm strength in exchange for some culinary variety. So, on Wednesday I made a parsley risotto topped with roasted mushrooms from Jamie’s Italy (yes, I know, again with Jamie. But I can’t stop.) The combination of the sprightly parsley and woodsy mushrooms created a pretty darn satisying meal, and Jim is now among the converted. A simple mid-week dinner infused with memories of my personal growth is never a bad thing. I’m sure we’ll see much more risotto, in diverse incarnations of course, at our dinner table. Sorry, Mom!