I made risotto for dinner tonight. Any avid fan of one of the many reality cooking competition shows out there will know that risotto is always a risk, if not a certain ticket to the loser bracket. It is not necessarily a hard dish to make (although it does take focused attention at the stove), but it's a hard dish to time when coordinated service is an expectation. Luckily for me we eat when it's ready around here.
The first time I ever ate risotto I was 14. My family was living in Saudi Arabia, but due to the laws governing expatriate schools in the Kingdom, I was in boarding school in Switzerland. Just up the mountain from my school was a little restaurant called Flora's where all they served were ribs slow-cooked on their wood fire hearth, salad, and risotto Milanese. If you wanted anything else you might have been disappointed, until the family-style platters and bowls arrived at your table and you dug in. A menu as simple as that must be impeccable, and Flora and her staff delivered.
But I was 14. How was I to know what an extraordinary meal I was having? I just thought you could find perfection everywhere.
When I first started cooking seriously, I believed I could recreate that meal. Over the years, I have tried dozens of rib and risotto recipes, and there have been some good meals, but that Flora's magic? Has eluded me. Tonight our risotto is rather work-a-day: boxed chicken stock with some shallots and shiitakes. We have a shrimp topping sautéed with napini and winter cress from our CSA, freshly shaved pecorino and a little dice of plum tomato. Nothing to complain about, for sure, but no comparison to Flora's either.
But that's okay.