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Arance nel risotto mantecato all’olio di rosmarino (Risotto with orange zest and rosemary oil)

February 28, 2011

Well, Jacob and I are home from California and Joshua is ever so glad.  You may have noticed he did not manage his own Cucina Casalinga post while I was gone, but…well, he managed…and that is good.  I decided not to post from California (though I did make a delicious Neapolitan ragù for my sister and brother-in-law–a recipe that calls for bacon and chuck roast, and a very long, gentle simmer in a large pot), but rather focus my energies on savouring the time with family I only see once or twice a year. My niece is beautiful, and my son looks like a proper giant next to her.  It’s hard to believe that in a few years they will be “the same age.”

Back in Vancouver, we Chestnuts are all happier together under one roof, and this past Saturday night Jacob went to sleep early, so I set about making risotto for two.  One of my favourite things about flying is that I treat myself to a food magazine from one of the airport news stands.  On this last trip, I bought two: the chefs’ edition of Saveur and one new to me, though it has been in existence since 1929–La Cucina Italiana.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover the latter, and I have already signed up for their weekly recipe-in-your-inbox.  Check out the magazine’s website here.  The recipe I used for the Neapolitan ragù can be found there, as can the recipe for arance nel risotto mantecato all’olio di rosmarino.

I have an ever-growing fondness for risotto.  Creamy, delicately flavoured, filling but not heavy–I find good risotto deeply satisfying.  Perhaps its satisfying nature comes from how very involved one must be in its preparation: standing at the stove for a good half an hour, stirring, stirring, stirring the small, white kernels as each slowly added ladle-full of hot broth softens and plumps them and magically creates a creamy robe around it all.  Its a lovely dish to make as a couple, taking turns at the stirring, chatting over the stove top warmth.

Joshua laid on the kitchen floor and talked to me while I cooked.  It was the end of his work week–three, twelve-hour night shifts in a row with little sleep in between–so this was a completely acceptable way of involving himself in the preparation of the meal.  And he did rise to take a turn at the stirring.

According to Waverly Root (The Food of Italy), Lombardy is the primary rice-growing region of Italy.  Apparently the one achievement of Galeazzo, the otherwise hated ruler of his time, was to introduce the cultivation of rice to Lombardy in the mid-15th century.  When saffron later made its debut in the region, the now-famous risotto alla milanese was born.  Now, thanks to modern farming technology and the “hardworking farmers one of whose chief characteristics is perseverance” (Root, 258), the low plains along the Po River yield large quantities of rice, as well as sugar beets, maize, wheat and other fruits and vegetables.

When I decide to ante up for real saffron, I will make risotto alla milanese.  Until then, I will content myself with other variations on the risotto theme.  This recipe adheres to Elizabeth David’s exhortation that “the simpler the risotto the better” (Italian Food, 123), subtly lending the bite of orange rind and the unmistakable aroma of rosemary to the creamy rice dish.  Perhaps my favorite part of making this meal was using a potato peeler to slowly remove the zest of a navel orange in one long, curling strand.  I had also never infused olive oil with anything before, and I will most certainly do this again, simple as it was–with rosemary, with hot peppers, with garlic, with whatever I fancy (orange and lemon rind?).  Besides, the sprig of fresh rosemary simply looked lovely releasing its flavours in the small pot of hot oil.

I nearly finished my bowl of risotto before Jacob woke and needed resettling.  Risotto for two…sort of.

The recipe:

Arance nel risotto mantecato all’olio di rosmarino (Risotto with orange zest and rosemary oil)

From La Cucina Italiana, with a few of my own variations…

Serves 4:

2 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken broth)

2 cups water (I substituted 1/2 cup of white wine for 1/2 cup of water)

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 leafy sprig fresh rosemary

2 navel oranges (1 probably would have been enough.  I had rind leftover, not wanting to over-orange my risotto–I used the leftover rind in blueberry scones this morning!)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine broth and water in a medium saucepan; heat to a very gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, combine 5 tablespoons oil and rosemary sprig in a small saucepan; heat over low heat until oil reaches a bare simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, then remove rosemary from oil; reserve oil. Remove and reserve leaves from toasted rosemary; discard stem.

Finely grate zest from 1 orange; put zest in a small bowl or ramekin and cover with plastic wrap.

From remaining orange, using a sharp paring knife, cut zest in long strips, avoiding white pith. Thinly slice zest strips lengthwise. Wrap sliced zest strips in plastic wrap; set aside grated zest and strips.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring frequently with a long handled wooden spoon, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add rice, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth mixture, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is mostly absorbed.

Add about 1/2 cup broth and grated zest. Cook, stirring constantly, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cupfuls, stirring constantly, and allowing each addition to mostly absorb before adding the next, until rice is tender yet firm to the bite (you may have broth left over).

Remove risotto from heat. Stir in cheese, 1 to 2 tablespoons reserved rosemary oil and salt. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve risotto immediately, sprinkled with reserved zest strips and rosemary. (I drizzled the infused oil on top of the risotto).

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