I can’t believe Canal House Cooking is already on Volume No. 7, and I can’t believe I don’t have them all. I definitely need to fill those holes in my collection. This latest volume was inspired by Hirsheimer and Hamilton’s month-long visit to Tuscany, and I received a review copy. They spent a month in a stone farmhouse at the end of a gravel road and cooked with all the ingredients of fall they found nearby. When they returned to their studio, they developed the dishes found in this volume based on simple, Italian, autumn cooking. There are tramezzini and panini with truffle butter and buttered toasts with bottarga, hearty soups with chicken and escarole or little stuffed pasta, and there is pasta. With recipes for fresh spinach pasta and ricotta, you can make lasagne, ravioli, and tagliatelle dishes entirely from scratch. There are dishes for seafood, poultry, and meat. In the vegetables section, the peppers in agrodolce are stuffed with anchovies and covered with a reduced sauce made from currants and vinegar, and the photo alone convinced me I need to try it. For dolci, there’s an apple cake, a beautiful jam tart, and gelato di gianduia among others. I’ll be turning back to the pasta pages soon enough, but first, I tried the risotto bianco. It’s as simple as risotto gets since it’s built with water rather than broth and only involves a few other ingredients. The ingredient that caught my attention, though, was preserved lemon rind. I have some lemons that I preserved a few months ago, and I was delighted to use them here.
You might wonder if this risotto is going to be bland since you start by simply bringing plain water to a simmer. Fear not. The beauty of the dish is the simplicity. As the water comes to a simmer in a saucepan, butter is melted in a large saute pan, and finely chopped onion is cooked just until translucent. The chopped preserved lemon rind is added next followed by the rice. After toasting the rice just a bit in the butter, you proceed as usual with risotto-making. A little water at a time is added as you stir and stir. When the rice is tender with a firm center, a little more butter and some grated parmiggiano-reggiano are added.
The lemon flavor is actually very subtle in the finished dish, but then everything about this is meant to be subtle. Fight the urge to make it more complicated. Don’t use broth in place of the water, and don’t caramelize the onion. You’ll get a risotto with fresh flavors of onion and lemon, richness from the butter and parmiggiano, and a new appreciation for simplicity on the plate.
recipe re-printed with publisher's permission
Risotto is traditionally made with the short-grain rice of the Po Valley. There are three main rice varieties: arborio, with its large plump grains that produce a starchy risotto; carnaroli, smaller grains that produce a looser (wavy) risotto; and vialone nano, with firm grains that cook up soft with a kernel of chewiness in the center, just the way Italians like it.
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon rind, optional
1 cup arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
½ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
Salt and pepper
Fill a medium pot with about 5 cups water and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and keep the water hot.
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir the preserved lemon rind, if using, into the onions then add the rice, stirring until everything is coated with butter.
Add 1/2 cup of the simmering water, stirring constantly, to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Push any rice that crawls up the sides back down into the liquid. When the rice has absorbed all the water, add another ½ cup of water. Continue this process until you have added most of the water, about 20 minutes.
Taste the rice, it is done when it is tender with a firm center. The fully cooked risotto should be moist but not soupy. Add the parmigiano and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and stir until it has melted into the rice. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
—From Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7, La Dolce Vita by Melissa Hamilton and
Christopher Hirsheimer/distributed by Andrews McMeel Publishing