This menu was inspired by a season that we New Englanders have become accustomed to NOT seeing: Spring. It is said that March in Boston can be as unpredictable as the stock market, and 2011 was no exception. The day I made this lovely meal (April 1st) just so happened to be a day of freezing sleet and snow – April Fool’s? Unfortunately not…nonetheless, I wasn’t about to let the slushy sidewalks chill my springtime spirit. Such is life in New England, and the reason (I believe) that warm, hearty dishes are an essential asset to surviving the final days of winter’s tyranny. So I turned to one of my greatest cooking inspirations, the Barefoot Contessa (though I wouldn’t be caught dead barefoot in this weather…). As always, she had the perfect dish: Spring Green Risotto – even saying that title made the sky seem less bleak. Unless going for a meatless main, I suggest pairing this with roasted salmon – trust me, you won’t regret it.
While the bulk of food history is “bland” (no pun intended), Risotto does provide a colorful story. Wars of expansion by North African states in the 9th century placed parts of southern Italy under Arab control. Though short-lived, Islamic rule in southern Italy left a strong impression on regional agriculture. Evidence of this can be found through two notable introductions: Asiatic rice and saffron (according to Wikipedia).
(Even though this next part is urban legend, it makes this dish ten times cooler) Jumping ahead to the 16th century, we meet a young apprentice named Valerius. Valerius had been given the task of creating stained glass windows for the Cathedral of Milan. The vivid colors and bright palettes he produced for the windows invoked ridicule from local townsmen – they claimed he was using “saffron” to achieve such a brilliant effect (not sure why this was teasing material, but it was the 16th century I guess…) Vowing revenge, Valerius decided to add an excessive amount of the spice to the main rice dish at his master’s wedding! You can imagine Valerius’s surprise when, expecting disgust and outrage, it was unanimously proclaimed as the best dish of the meal (according to eHow.com).
While this particular recipe exempts the traditional use of saffron, the spice is not missed. With every spring vegetable imaginable, this risotto is a fantastic way to bring back memories of warmer days – fennel, leeks, asparagus, and peas. A word of caution: risotto is a dish best made slow. Arborio rice is starchier variety than its long-grained cousin, and produces a creamy, flavorful result when paired with broth and aromatics. Ensuring the rice absorbs the liquid at the proper rate is thus a crucial part of the process. Treat this dish like you would a three-year-old: with patience and constant supervision. You can find the recipe HERE. As I mentioned, the flavors of this dish pairs beautifully with roasted salmon. I also made a side of Braised Carrots and Parsnips with Crispy Sage – excellent recipe! You can find that recipe HERE.
In the spirit of “spring”, I could only choose the composer whose interpretation of nature even Disney couldn’t ignore (see Fantasia, the original): Beethoven. His Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op.68 is evidence to his love of the outdoors. Additionally, the first movement Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country) pairs beautifully with such a bright, vegetable-laden dish. I imagine there are those who wonder why I didn’t choose Gewitter, Sturm (Thunderstorm; Storm) given the dreadful weather, but this post was a wish for the sunnier days of spring. Now I don’t believe in miracles, but the gorgeous weather of April 2nd made me believe that my prayers just might have been heard. A note about the video link: the orchestra is not listed, but it was the best quality recording I could find (such is the consequence of having to use YouTube). They do pair it with pictures of “nature” though, so that’s an added bonus to my blog’s theme I guess. Enjoy!