IMO Thursday this week sets out to explain a bit of my passion for risotto and blissful experimentation. A few days ago the phenomenal Italian wine writer and philologist Jeremy Parzen posted a wonderful article on the origins of La Carbonara. In the article Jeremy goes down a few theories of how the famous pasta with bacon and egg sauce got its name. As always I was intrigued by Jeremy’s excellent research and interesting way he makes the communication of facts so easy to follow and entertaining.
In the case of this post however, I was most excited to see the variations of the dish detailed in lovely pictures and it reminded me that as much as tradition is necessary for the preservation of society, it is experimentation that gives birth to these traditions.
I decided that night was to be a Carbonara night for Juliet and me. The only problem was I had no spaghetti and no inclination to go to the store. I did however have a fresh box of vialone nano rice though and an idea.
What about Risotto alla Carbonara? I love risotto (as most of you know) and I love carbonara sauce. Why not give it a go?
Last week I posted my risotto recipe again. I was thrilled by the number of responses I got and I promised Just a Smidgen (one of the finest food bloggers in North America) that I would elaborate on my passion for the rice. I learned to cook watching my grandmothers and wanting to emulate them. I began cooking family dinners by age 11 and at 27 I was making wine dinners for friends and private clients.
In all of this my go to has always been risotto. I am naturally lazy, I was always pretty good at things like math and reading and as I am also weirdly competitive it was essential for me to rush through those things to get to the next. In essence, even with food I always look for shortcuts, prep time reductions, and little cheats. With risotto there are none of these. It cannot be rushed unless prepared in a pressure cooker. I have never purchased this kitchen item because I simply do not want to rush the risotto.
Much like a long flight forces me to sit, relax, and contemplate; making risotto has the same effect on me. I must chop the onions (a job my normally reliable prep cook Juliet refuses to do) prep the stock, cook the soffrito, and stir, shake, add liquid, stir, shake, taste, salt, add, stir, and finally plate the molten rice amalgam. This is what slows my mind, this is something beautiful I cannot rush. Hell, even sex can be rushed but never risotto. It is in its own time and in its own way the most patient thing I do in life. I wish I applied risotto technique to my writing and risotto constraint to my big mouth.
I have truly made the rice over 300 times. If I am ever out of raw rice in the house I am nervous till I get more. There is no place in my home for an empty cupboard of carnaroli, arborio, or vialone nano. On any given day and at the drop of a hat I can be ready to prepare the ultimate comfort in comforting food. If guests come by on short notice we have risotto, if they arrive on a month’s notice, we likely have risotto. It is one of the few things I feel as though I have mastered and still have much room for growth. Rice is often the most challenging component of the art of sushi, and with good reason. The balance in flavor of rice to the added components makes or breaks sushi and it is much the same with risotto.
How was the Risotto alla Carbonara? In all honesty it was my favorite risotto of the year and I will be making it again next week. I know a few tweaks now and when I have them tight I will post a recipe. Tracie Parzen (her excellent blog here), Jeremy’s wife, is an extraordinary cook who just does amazing things with Italian cuisine. If these very traditionally minded friends can experiment with the tenets of the world’s greatest cuisine, then I shall blissfully march into the kitchen and do likewise.