Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saffron and Pea Shoot Risotto

How is everyone's dinner party planning going? Personally, I've managed to stress myself out pretty well- although somehow because I dug the hole myself, it all seems a bit funny. I've settled on something of a menu that seems faintly possible, but I'm not sure what I was thinking when I got all excited about the courses thing- I own, like twelve plates! And I don't have a dishwasher! But as always seems to be the case, good food drama lends itself to good blog posts, so there you go. Hopefully my guests will have a sense of humor too.

On another note, I've been thinking a lot about the food that we learn from our family. Maybe the stress has brought it on- I am Jewish after all. My mother is a very good cook- and the basis of my cooking is all her. Tamari and Olive oil. Kale. Sweet potatoes. But like so many other things, I seemed to have simply absorbed her cooking- I have no memory of ever learning her skills, I just seem to have them. My grandmother, however, is a whole different story.
My grandparents owned a vegetarian bed and breakfast through my whole childhood. I thought the food was just awful. People came back year after year to experience the culture and joy of the Berkshires on a full belly of whole grain pancakes, nutty zucchini bread, and frittatas packed full of vegetables lovingly grown by my grandfather in the backyard. Because my mom was a working single mother, I was there a lot, and they never could get me to eat those pancakes. My grandmother was, to date, the only baker in the family until me, but more than that, she was a deep and sensual food lover. In the midst of her devote vegetarianism, she was never so happy as when surprised by a plate of ribs, and she insisted on taking me out for lobster for every birthday. When she died in a car accident when I was fourteen, I began to realize that I had very little of her in the way of a food legacy. To this day , a picture of her is taped to my kitchen cabinet, and I feel some deep need to bring her into my kitchen. As odd as it seems, I most relate her to crackers with cream cheese and green olives, because that was one of the only things that she made that I remember liking.
So yesterday, I picked Rosie up from a playdate at her new best friend's house, and we made it home before Sadie and Joey. She was very sad about leaving her dearest Petra, and so I thought it might be a good time to introduce her to her great grandma Shirley. They got along quite well.

As she became aquainted with the joys of this wonderful snack, I decided to make risotto.
Although the two foods seem unrelated, they are most certainly not. I have an aunt and uncle who, like my grandparents, had a share in raising me. They are of California stock, and I guess you could say that they are responsible for teaching me about fancy types of greens, Pernod, and other things that make up the good life. And at the height of my participation in their family, my uncle was the one who really peaked my interest in cooking.
But families fall apart in funny ways, and this time I came away with with quite a bit of love the kitchen. And although I haven't made a risotto in years, all these thoughts of family and food have driven me to it. Because when my uncle went through his risotto phase, he shared it all with me. And there's nothing like spacing out over a risotto for a while, trust me on this one.

Saffron and Pea Shoot Risotto
serves 4

1 medium onion, diced, or two shallots diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, unwashed
5 cups homemade chicken stock
3 T butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
a hefty pinch of saffron threads
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
a large handful of pea shoots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the stock till boiling, then lower the heat so that it is barely simmering.
In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, melt half the butter. Add the onion or shallots and cook until shiny and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the saffron. Then add the rice, and stir for about 4 minutes, until the rice is shiny but not brown. Add the wine, and stir until it is all absorbed. Then you can start with the hot chicken stock, and at this point, you want to get into something of a rhythm. Never let the rice dry out. Add 1/2 cup of stock or so, and just keep stirring. Take a swig off of that open white wine on the counter. Stir some more. Add another 1/2 cup of stock every few minutes, or when the rice is in danger of drying out. In all, it should take 20-30 minutes from when you add the rice. Salt a bit as you go. In the end, add the parmesan, the rest of the butter, the pea shoots, and as much salt and pepper as tastes good to you. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then serve. Eat it all- it makes lousy leftovers unless you want to turn it into little risotto cakes and fry them.


  1. Hi Alana, it's Aunt Cindy here. I enjoyed reading about Grandma Shirley and the cream cheese and olive sandwiches. I didn't know about that. And I'm looking forward to trying your turnip recipes with the turnips in our organic community garden. But I just need to correct one fact. I love to bake! The love of baking definitely didn't skip a generation! In fact, we just visited Aunt Fay yesterday and she was asking if I ever made granda's ruggala, which I do. I even have a treasured original copy of her recipe, the one that she typed on her typewriter and mimeographed (with that tell-tale purple mimeograph ink). I love to pull it out and invoke granda's spirit as I roll and bake the ruggala. It's a wonderful holiday ritual for me.

    This weekend, I'm baking the best and easiest ever blueberry tart to share with garden friends. If you're interested, I'll send you the recipe.

    Love to Joey and the girls.

  2. Oh, Cindy- so many apologies. Of course I know Grandma's baking talent passed down to you- just funny that it skipped over my mother- three words there- FROZEN PIE CRUST. I think we might have to post the ruggela recipe one of these days... a joint effort perhaps? And yes please on the tart recipe!

  3. Alana,

    I love the pictures of you and the girls in Maine! Yeah, the frozen pie crust is a funny thing, but it's definitely easier. But I made my own the other night for a wonderful asparagus tart with a combo of asparagus from the garden and from the farmer's market. I'll get you the tart recipe in the next few days. You'll love it, but the trick is getting a 9" tart pan with high sides. Regular tart pans have low, 3/4" or so, sides, but this one has sides about 1 1/4" high.

    Well, off to go swim between the raindrops!

    Love, Cindy