At the end of a meal you stand up from your chair satisfied, often with a bigger smile than before, and begin to clear the table. You turn around and start cleaning pots and pans on the stove to check if you have leftovers. Some are programmed, left there for dinner or for the lunch of the next day. They often improve with time, deepening their flavours, like lasagna or meat stews. Other leftovers will need a pinch of creativity to be re-invent, a culinary challenge to enjoy.
The leftover risotto was a real waste for me until recently. As soon as you scoop it out of the pot, steaming and creamy, it is the comfort food par excellence. Past a short time, when it is cold and left there at the bottom of the pot, it loses all its appeal. Blame the Tuscan tradition. We do not grow rice here extensively, so as we do not have classic recipes with rice, we miss also inventive ways to use up till the last grain of rice, as we usually do with every crumb of stale bread.
Then came Curtiriso and the rice based menu, and I found myself to make a second recipe which can be a creative way of using leftover risotto. Ada Boni and her The Talisman Italian Cookbook give a recipe for riso arrosto alla Genovese, a crisp rice gratin which becomes the first course of my traditional menu. Before becoming a coded recipe it was just a way to use leftover risotto: you would spread it on a baking tray and pass it quickly underneath the broiler until crisp.
“Put in a saucepan a piece of butter, some chopped onion, 200 grams of peeled and chopped fresh sausage and let cook slowly.” This is how Ada Boni suggests to start cooking the rice gratin. Butter and sausage. It might sound weird to a culture which worships olive oil and cooks the sausages in their own fat, without adding anything else.
Ada, a forerunner Nigella or a cook who had to feed generations of women and men dedicated to a far more active life than ours? When in doubt, I lightened the recipe, trying to preserve its distinctive opulent character, where sausage, butter, artichokes and tomato sauce enrich the rice and create a crisp gratin. The result is a tray of rice with vibrant colours to bring to the table holding it with a kitchen cloth, a classic and reassuring image as the scent of butter and sausage which will linger upon your table.
To make this recipe I used basmati rice. Rice with a delicate flavour and elegant slender shape. This variety of rice is grown in India and Pakistan. In Hindi its name means “queen of fragrance”, indicating its typical and intense aroma. Its delicate flavour and the elegant slender shape of the grain make it ideal for accompanying meat, fish and vegetable dishes and the preparation of ethnic recipes. Arborio would be perfect as well.
Crisp rice gratin
- 40 g of butter
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 150 g of fresh sausage
- 3 artichokes
- 400 ml of tomato sauce
- 400 g of basmati rice
- 100 g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 300 ml of hot water
- Fresh thyme
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Stir fry the onion with butter until softened, add the peeled and crumbled sausage and the hearts of artichokes, thinly sliced. Cook for five minutes then add the tomato puree and let it simmer for another five minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the rice in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and add it to the pan with artichokes, sausage and tomato sauce. Add also the grated Parmigiano and stir to mix all the ingredients. Season with salt to taste.
- Preheat oven to 200°C and Spread the rice in a ceramic baking dish. It should be at least 5 cm thick. Level the surface, sprinkle some fresh thyme on top and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the rice is dry and covered with a golden crust.
Not strictly recipe related, today I want to leave you with a bunch of inspiring links I’ve found in the past days.
- Laurie Colwin: A Confidante in the Kitchen, suggested by Rossella. Another inspiring woman to read and re-read, a book to keep on your bed side table and savour before going to sleep. Laurie is ironic, has a direct and fun approach to cooking, she’s the woman you would have next to you in the kitchen.
- There have been Easter and a few festive days, with chocolate, cakes and big trays of roasted meat, we’re already giving fire to the barbecues for the First of May, so this is an article that you (and I) should consider: The Food Writer’s Diet. It sounds simple, but at the time, when I tended to polish off everything in front of me just because it was there, it was revolutionary.
- Last link, a post from the blog 5 second rule, which is the winner for the Food Writing category of the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards 2014. I’m reading and re-reading it in these days which are always shorter than I would need, when I am fighting with sleep deprivation, tiredness, schedules and excitement: I need a hero. Don’t try to impress your peers. Try to impress your heroes.