Tag Archives: risotto

A New Cookbook & a Recipe Preview (Risi e Bisi)

risi e bisi

The Premise

When I first moved to university and started to cook for myself, it wasn’t from a cookbook. It wasn’t from a hand-scribbled recipe notebook either, because no one in my family ever kept one. I mostly played it by ear, using the few basic skills I had picked up from Mum. I knew, among other things, how to make a decent plate of pasta in a small array of fashions; a good risotto with a few variations (pumpkin, peas, radicchio, asparagus or mushrooms); a fine roasted chicken; and a balanced salad dressing. I liked cooking, but I also liked not cooking. I loved having the luxury of eating cheese on toast for four days in a row, because I was finally living alone, playing adult, and responding to no one other than myself. Stirring pots interested me to a point; I had stronger urges.

Then again, food wasn’t yet the ever-embracing trend that it is now. Back then, properly written recipe books were spare and rare, particularly in Italy, where many households owned, if any, one or two tomes at most (Artusi and The Silver Spoon). In my family, for instance, I have never seen a cookbook circulating; certainly not on our coffee table, and definitely not in the kitchen. We might have owned a couple, but never used them. Mum liked to cook on a whim, make stuff up, wing it a lot, rely on classics. She, too, had stronger urges. Rather than cookbooks, she bought novels. She found following recipes somewhat tedious and cooking a distraction from her devouring passion for fictional characters. The less time spent in the kitchen, the more time with her nose buried in books.

In this instance, I turned out to be very much my mother’s daughter. I grew up loving fiction books to bits and had enrolled in a foreign language degree at university with the ambition to become a literary translator. I spent a good part of my spare time consuming British and American literature of all calibre while chasing the dream of mastering the English language as it was my own. Of course, I failed. I realised pretty soon that I was failing – struggling, stumbling on accents and sentences – and instead of pushing harder, I lost momentum, preserving my interest in reading but not my ambition in translating.  Around then, my dreams took an abrupt U-turn.

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Girolle Mushroom and Speck Risotto


“The elementary rules once grasped, it remains only to be borne in mind that the simpler the risotto the better.” says the wise Elizabeth David in her brilliant book called Italian Food. Indeed, apart from the basics (oil and butter, onion, rice, wine and stock) a couple of add-ins are usually enough. The best risotti have just one or two dominant flavours, sometimes complementary, others contrasting, but never colliding.

Wild mushrooms like finferli (girolles) are in full swing right now. Sweet and fruity, they grab your attention with their bright golden cap and scruffy look. In risotto they work wonders on their own, but I like them paired with some speck, too, for added savouriness.

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Leek Risotto with Sausage

 A few weeks ago, on a foggy Sunday afternoon, we drove from Bra to Cervere, a village known for being home to the best leeks in the whole of Italy, to secure our stash for the season.

The first thing I made with these huge, beautiful leeks is risotto – a simple dish made special by local, quality ingredients, and enriched by a good deal of savoury sausage for good measure. A perfect winter warmer.

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Fig Pecorino Risotto

I grew up spoilt by a bounty of free, home-grown food, from vegetables of all sorts depending on the season, to eggs and poultry, to fruits in the summer and fall months – strawberries in late May, then cherries in June, and plums, grapes and tiny green, soft, jammy figs later on in the summer. The bounty decreasing a bit afterwards, giving us some pomegranates and nespole in the fall, with persimmons closing the dances in December.

Figs. Those figs are so stuck in my memory. There were two fig trees in grandma’s garden, one by the barn hosting the farming tools, and one in the middle of the hens’ patch. I would climb those trees with a latter, a little plastic bowl in one hand. I knew what to do, not quite sure if someone taught me or if it was somehow ingrained in my genes. I would test the fruits carefully, pressing them to feel the ripeness, and gently detach only the soft ones. I would descend the latter only when the bowl was full, and most of the time, there were more left on the branches.

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