Funny how ideas work. A couple of months ago, an Italian teacher spoke of making a traditional dish, risotto, with a different ingredient, orzo. A week later, the same instructor was enthusiastic about adapting that risotto process for another grain, farro. A few weeks later, the New York Times printed a recipe using the same method with farro. All of a sudden three cooking magazine are hot on the trail of using the risotto method with a host of various primary ingredients, largely featuring farro. Ideas are uncontainable. One of the great things about food is that it is such a friendly family, utterly open to adopting, educating, transforming and, above all else, being enjoyed.
Risotto is a traditional northern Italian dish, primarily used as a “primo piatto” or first dish, what we typically call an appetizer. (As opposed to antipasti, which precede the primi piatti, go figure.) The classic Risotto Milanese combines Aborio rice, beef marrow, beef broth, onion, saffron and cheese. It is cooked slowly, first coating the grains in either butter or lard, then adding liquid, a ladle at a time, until it has almost all been absorbed by the rice. The result is a creamy porridge-like mixture of rich and delicate flavor. There are as many variations of risotto as there are grains in the bowl and cities in Italy, including fresh green vegetables, dense mushrooms, seafood and wine. But, until recently, always with rice.
When the Italians instigated the Slow Food movement, they didn’t neglect to include new ideas, only to eradicate the rush and hustle from the dinner table. So one now finds such innovations as dessert risottos, created with chocolate, buttermilk, honey, nuts, citrus, lush spices and fruits such as peaches, blueberries and strawberries. Still craving risottos in early spring, fans devised a challenger to the supremacy of the Milanese classic in the form of Spring Pea Risotto. Contests and victors are irrelevant. What is important is the creamy result of the tried and true process.
Fortunately, for the kitchens and tables of the world, very few cooks can leave well enough alone. Some interested foodie somewhere stood looking at a countertop of ingredients and wondered what would happen if she used that brilliant process for different grain or grain product. As I stood looking at my countertop, chiding myself for not having figured out beforehand what I was going to do with the ramps, fiddlehead ferns and farro that I had brought home, I remembered that Italian instructor. The result is this week’s recipe, Farrotto with Ramps, Fiddlehead Ferns and Asparagus. Maybe next week I’ll try the orzo. I bet those dessert risottos could be adapted too. Buon Apetito!