I've been extremely antsy lately.
Last night I jumped on my bike and just started riding. I didn't know where I was going, but I was going to get there really fast.
I got lost. Well, as lost as one can get in Utrecht.
Actually, I knew where I was at all times: On the corner where the little calf jumps around the yard like a puppy. Past the house where the wild boar forages around the dandelion patch. Near that beautiful pair of horses who are always cast in the most perfect tree-filtered light. In some scary ghetto near the train station, literally on the wrong side of the tracks...
Yes, I always knew exactly where I was - I just had no idea where that was relative to anything else. But I kept riding. And shouting at the sky.
I wanted to exhaust myself. To ride until my legs turned to jelly and simply refused to support me anymore. To force myself into submission. So I would have to stop and just. be. still. Whether I liked it or not.
I'm certainly not complaining - no one loves globetrotting more than I do. But I suppose the downside to making 40 international trips over the past year is that we haven't really settled down long enough to decide where we're going to live. In the meantime, I haven't the slightest idea what I should be doing with myself. Should I be trying to make friends here? Find a job? Get my residency permit? Ship the rest of my shoes? Or is that all pointless if we really are moving soon? And if so, where are we going...?
These are just a few of the hundreds of rhetorical questions that I've been asking my husband with increasing frequency and decreasing patience. Thankfully, he is extremely understanding and has not (yet) chucked me into the canal.
I know that my restlessness is pointless. That there is a natural order to all things, that some take longer than others, and that the best things in life are worth waiting for.
And whenever I need reminding of this, I make a risotto.
There are a few secrets to a good risotto, but none so important as time. Anna del Conte, one of my favorite Italian food writers, insists that "risotto requires a generous amount of butter (and usually cheese] to achieve its lovely, creamy consistency." However, in an attempt to reduce the amount of butter and cheese I've been consuming (particularly since moving to Europe), and I can personally attest to some of the loveliest, creamiest risotto dishes being made without an ounce of either.
If you want to make a proper risotto - I'm talking about a truly transcendent bowl of warm, gooey deliciousness - you need to get comfortable in front of your stovetop. Contrary to popular belief, it is neither butter nor cheese that gives risotto it's creamy texture - it's the gentle action of continuous stirring that loosens the starch from the rice grains and releases them into the cooking liquid.
I've not the slightest idea whether substituting butter and cheese for stirring time would work. To be honest, it never occurred to me to try. Risotto is one of my guilty pleasures. The enjoyment of this dish lies not only in its divine texture or its ingredients, but in its making.
How often do we allow ourselves one uninterrupted hour of time to stop and think, to chat with a friend, to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner and flirt with our spouses the way we used to when we were trying to hard to impress them...
For me, it is the culinary equivalent of meditation - only when you're done, there is a kick-ass dinner waiting for you as a reward.
This one in particular set off a string of spontaneous F-bombs in our kitchen.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
Sun-Dried Tomato-Basil Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar
adapted from my friend Karie's recipe (thanks girl, we owe you one!)
5 cups vegetable broth
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1-1/2 cups (250g) arborio rice
1 cup red wine
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes (about 3 oz), cut into bite size pieces
1-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
20 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
Pour the veggie broth into a saucepan and add the chopped tomatoes. Bring to simmer and reduce to warm, but don't take it off the heat. It's important that the cooking liquid is always hot to facilitate the starch release.
While that's happening, warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion with a teaspoon of salt - this will soften the onion and keep it from browning. Then add the garlic and saute until soft.
Next, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the rice is thoroughly coated and becomes translucent. Nicely toasted rice is another secret to great risotto.
Add in a cup of red wine (and pour one for yourself while you're at it) and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Then add a cup of the broth and tomatoes and stir. And stir. And sip. And stir some more.
When the broth has been absorbed, add another cup and keep stirring until the liquid has again been absorbed. Feel free to pour yourself another glass of wine. Call your mom. Make out with your husband. But whatever you do, keep stirring.
Continue adding the broth a cup at a time. When the rice starts to soften (test a couple of grains after 2-3 cups), stir in the sun-dried tomatoes then continue adding rest of the broth (a cup at a time) and stir-stir-stirring until the rice is al dente (tender but slightly firm in center).
When the rice is nice and creamy, stir in the last cup of broth along with the balsamic vinegar. When these have been mostly absorbed, remove from heat, add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. The traditional texture is all'onda (wavy). It should spread out easily, but not have a watery perimeter so be sure not to cook the liquid out completely.
Risotto should be served and eaten immediately or it will continue to cook itself in its own heat which will dry it out and make the grains too soft.
Spoon onto individual plates or bowls, garnish with the basil chiffonade (and a few crumbles of goat cheese if you like) and serve with the remaining red wine.