If you had ever stood in front of my cookbook shelf – actually shelves would be more appropriate, but using the singular form makes me feel a little less cookbook fanatic – you couldn’t have helped but notice a large section dedicated to Italian cuisine. Beyond argument, the Italian cuisine was omnipresent over the last years and not surprisingly among the most popular cookbook themes. Old classics and new bestsellers have occupied the bookstores’ windows, every celebrity chef chipped in and gave his or her view on Italian cuisine, more or less compelling. You’ll find a plethora of books dedicated to pizza and pasta, traditional family cuisine or even vegetarian food. The influx of titles raised my doubts about whether new publications could possibly generate more than a shrug of my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Italian cuisine and I am almost positive that I could live on Vitello tonnato, Minestrone, Lasagne and Tiramisu only, probably for the rest of my life. But how many different interpretations of Italian food does a cookbook aficionado really need?
So it may come as a bit of a surprise (certainly to me), that the last cookbook I feel in love with – yet again – covers Italian food: Beaneaters & bread soup by Lori De Mori and Jason Lowe. There couldn’t have been a better basis for this well written book, De Mori, a passionate food writer, who restored a 200 year-old farmhouse in Tuscany and Lowe, an award-winning food photographer – besides being her husband. Their love for Italy and its food shines through every line and photography. The rustic and unpretentious cover doesn’t give away, what beauty you’re about to discover. The choice of paper, the fonts, the overall style emphasizes the stories this talented couple shares with the reader: 25 gastronomic and food-related artisans are portrayed in an extraordinary intriguing manner, you can’t help but smile about carefully observed details.
… On the upper left hand side of the menu – under the heading ‘IMPORTANTE’ – the following caveats appear (in both Italian and English): ‘The trill of mobile phones disturbs the ribollita‘s cooking. …’
Quote from the chapter about Gianluca Paoli (Cook/Proprietor)
The portraits cover an amazing variety of artisans, Tripe Vendor - check, Lardo die Colonnata Producer - check, Mushroom Hunter, Potter, Sheperd – check, check, check – and they are accompanied by roughly 90 recipes, for the most part simple and traditional dishes featuring the regions essential ingredients, tempting nevertheless. My first choice was slightly influenced by the leeks in my fridge, which have been waiting for their gala display longer than necessary already. But then, is there a better ending to a leek’s life than becoming julienne for risotto? I hardly doubt that. Besides, the final result was an very honorable advocate of the risotti kind. Especially the leek julienne provided an additional velvety mouthfeel that made me and my co-eaters go mmmmmmh all the time…
Risotto with leeks & winter squash
Prepare the vegetables: Cut the squash into small cubes (up to you, mine were a tad smaller than a cm / ~1/4 inch), discard seeds and skin. Slice the white parts of the leek in small julienne stripes (roughly 8 cm/3 inches long).
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the leek julienne over low to medium heat. The leeks are not supposed to brown, so you might add a little broth to prevent them from gaining color. When the leeks are soft (about 5 to 8 minutes), add the pumpkin cubes and cover with a lid. Make sure to stir frequently and add more broth if necessary. Stir in the chopped parsley as soon as the pumpkin has become soft (mine took less than 15 minutes) and remove from the heat until further use.
Prepare the risotto: Add the shallots and half of the butter to a pot and sauté shortly until soft and translucent, but don’t brown them. Add the rice and stir over medium heat to coat the grains with the butter, then add the white wine and stir as long as most of the liquid has evaporated.
Now add a cup of the warm broth and stir gently until almost all of the broth is absorbed. Add a little broth at a time, continuously stirring and having an eye on the pot to not let the rice stick to the bottom. Do so for about 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is almost tender and done. Finally add the sautéed vegetables and cook for another minute or two.
Fold in the grated Parmesan, the remaining butter and season with a pinch of nutmeg and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve with additional grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.
Risotto with leeks & winter squash
Recipe source: Beaneaters & bread soup by Lori De Mori and Jason Lowe, p.88, adapted
Prep time: ~10min., cooking: ~30min.
Ingredients (serves 2-3, depending on appetite):
300g winter squash
1 leek (only the white part)
3-4 tbsp olive oil
~ 1l vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
250g risotto rice (Arborio)
50ml dry white wine
30g Parmesan, freshly grated
a pinch freshly ground nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
to serve (optional):
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped