Eat: The Italians Got It Right

Although I've been to Milan in November, when the city is grey and cold, I never think of Italy as a place that suffers winter. This is foolish, of course. It has its own set of Alps, which means winter is a thing it has to deal with, probably once a year or so. I, however, am affected by a much longer trip to Italy that I took a few* summers back, when H1 and I meandered around Italy with a car and a tent, restricted in where we went only by our flight back home from Venice. Those eleven blissful days fixed the idea that Italy is endless summer firmly in my mind. A couple of seconds to think about the high comfort factor of so many of their dishes quickly proves that thought wrong, though. Would a country that was perpetually warm rely so heavily on pasta? Or bread? Or, most importantly, risotto?

Smoked Salmon Risotto
Smoked Salmon Risotto

Maybe. Because all those things are incredible, and I, for one, eat them all year round. Still, if I was only allowed to eat them in one season, I'd choose winter, without a doubt. On a cold night, nothing can beat Italian food.

It was just such a night when I last decided to make risotto. I went out that day knowing I had to buy something to eat for dinner, but without a clue as to what I wanted. A wander around Citarella and a quick stop by the smoked fish counter, and I had my answer. I wanted risotto. Specifically, smoked salmon risotto with lemon.

When life gives you lemons...
When life gives you lemons...

I make risotto in a kind of lazy way, because I will never be the sort of person who has the patience to stand by the stove, stirring, for the entire time I'm cooking. I've heard that you're missing out on maximum creaminess by not doing this, but I've also heard that it's the last couple of minutes that really make the difference. If I do say so myself, my risotto tastes pretty good, so I think the latter technique is pretty effective - and if the other way is better, I'll never know.

Smoked Salmon Risotto (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 lb. smoked salmon, flaked
  • 1/2 small lemon
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (fish would obviously work, but I never have it)
  • Generous amount of ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A handful of baby spinach leaves, chopped roughly

Method:

Gently heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, then add chopped onion, and stir until the onion starts to become translucent. Add arborio rice, and stir until all the grains are covered in oil. Don't let the rice or the onion brown.

Coating the arborio rice in oil.
Coating the arborio rice in oil.

Add half a cup of stock (carefully, because this is a prime time to splash yourself with hot oil and stock) and stir until the stock is mostly absorbed. Now, add another cup of stock, give it a stir, and let it simmer while you go do something better than stirring**. Come back and give it another stir every 7 - 10 minutes or so. Make sure it doesn't boil dry - add more stock whenever you need to.

Rice and stock simmering away on the stove.
Rice and stock simmering away on the stove.

After about half an hour, test the rice - it should be nearly done by this stage. You want it soft and fluffy, and bound together by a creamy sauce-type thing. If it's cooked, turn the heat up a little and let the stock boil down until it's nearly as thick as you want it. Let it be a little more liquid than you'd find ideal, in preparation for the final step.

Add the flaked salmon and squeeze the lemon juice in, then stir really quickly. Doing this maximises creaminess. Apparently. But it's not hard, so I've never tried not doing it, and therefore can't vouch for what happens if you don't.

Dish into two bowls, and top with freshly-ground pepper and baby spinach leaves. The pepper is vital for taste, and the baby spinach is vital for reducing your guilt at eating a meal that otherwise would use half a vegetable, and no more. Prego***.

The perfect winter meal.
The perfect winter meal.

*Nearly five, actually - unbelievable.

**Suggested activities include Facebook, a magazine, a not-too-engrossing TV show, or what may best be referred to as 'generally messing around on the internet'. Nothing too interesting, in other words.

***As far as H1 and I could tell on our travels around Italy, prego means whatever you want it to mean. It's a very useful word.