Today was one of those top 10 weather days in the Northeast U.S., so off I went to the tow path that traverses a nearby lake and canal in my town. No radios or tvs to remind me of the financial morass or the political hyperbole that has been omnipresent in the U.S. Just me and my bike and peaceful waterside scenes of ducks paddling by, muscular young men and women jogging by and long, sleek collegiate racing sculls with oarsmen gliding by.
Before I knew it, it was nearly dinner time and I wanted something quick. Chicken breasts were already thawed, so they could be easily grilled. But what to accompany them? Potatoes? no, too much time. Besides, I had none in the house. But I did have rice, and a risotto would take only 20 minutes. I could add some of those herbs growing in my garden too, similar to a risotto I had eaten earlier this summer with friends at their home in Italy’s Val D’Aosta region.
That night we dined in their restored, 17th century house overlooking a castle that Disney might have designed, had he been alive in the 11th century, and the distant peaks of Monte Bianco, Europe’s tallest mountain. I’m not exactly sure which herbs my friend Marisa used in her risotto, but it doesn’t really matter.
Use whatever you have on hand. And it can be only one or two herbs, rather than the mixture I used — a combination of fresh thyme, oregano, chives and sage. Whatever you choose, make sure they’re fresh, not dried herbs. With the addition of a salad and the grilled chicken, dinner was ready in a half-hour and I had gotten in my exercise for the day too. It might not have been the Val D’Aosta, but my bike ride — and my risotto — were pretty special too.
Risotto With Herbs
3 T. olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
1 shallot or 1/4 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup white wine
4-5 cups hot chicken broth
salt, ground white pepper
1/4 heaping cup minced herbs
2 T. butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Pour the olive oil into the pan and add the shallots or onion and garlic. Saute until translucent. Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes to coat with the olive oil. Add the white wine and let it reduce until it’s almost gone. Start adding the chicken broth, a ladle at a time, stirring and letting it cook down until it reduces. Add salt and pepper, being careful to add only a little salt. The parmesan cheese that you later add will contribute to the salty taste. Keep adding more chicken broth, a little at a time, until the rice starts to become more tender to the bite. If you find yourself running out of chicken stock, keep the tea kettle boiling and use hot water. Add the herbs after about 15 or twenty minutes, when the risotto is nearly done. If you add them too soon, they’ll darken and you’ll lose some of the flavor. Stir for a few more minutes and then add the butter. Remove from the heat and add parmesan cheese – anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on your taste.