We’ll dine and drink, and say if we think that anything better can be; And when we have dined, wish all mankind may dine as well as we.
Thomas Love Peacock
Food is a very personal subject. Food can be a struggle for some, with temptation too great to handle, or simply a means of living for others. Food can bring friends and family together and can act as the star in a family feud. Food can be both bitter and sweet, scare and aplenty. Food can excite and disappoint. Food is versatile. Food is love.
In my humble opinion, dinner should be more than a means to an end. It’s okay if the meal takes time, lots of chopping and dicing and stirring. To enjoy the process is to make the most of the situation. I don’t think it needs to be this way every night of the week but fortunately for me it is a labor of love I don’t mind investing in.
I’ve never made risotto before but it seems to appear on just about every dinner menu throughout town. I’ve heard the rumors, constant stirring, too labor intensive. But I had the time to prepare, and the patience to hover above the grains as they absorbed the broth so slowly and purposefully. I was willing to be a part of this transformation from stiff short grain to bountiful, flavorful bed of risotto. Just listening to my mother exclaim “Ris-oh-tow” in her New Jersey accent made the entire evening worth it.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world as each Saffron Crocus only offers three stigmas that must be hand-picked and dried. The red-gold hue of the threads will produce a yellow color once soaked in water. Although pricey and aromatic, this spice is a true representation of the old saying “a little goes a long way.” Just 1/4 tsp of threads will suffice for 4 servings of risotto which will run you about $5 and when paired with ever-so-affordable but tasty mussels I think we have reached a compromise.
This dish is creamy and flavorful as the cooking liquid is the main source of moisture for the absorbent arborio rice grains. Although the constant supervision of this dish may scare finnicky cooks away, most of the chopping and dicing can be done ahead of time and the only cooking skill necessary is the ability to stir, diligently.
Recipe from Mystic Seaport Seafood Secrets Cookbook Volume II
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 cups short grain Italian Arborio rice
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBSP chopped fresh parsley
grated parmesan cheese
Bring 2 1/2 cups water and wine to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the cleaned mussels and cook for 3 minutes, until all of the shells have opened. Discard those that have not opened. Shell the mussels and set aside.
Strain the cooking liquid through cheese cloth or a fine sieve into a small pan. Add 1 cup warm water and saffron.
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion and garlic to saute for about 4 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Cook for 1 minute and add the cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the liquid to be absorbed between each addition. This should take about 20 minutes. When rice is tender but creamy, add the butter and mussels. Stir in salt and parsley and season to taste with pepper. Serve with a bowl of parmesan cheese and a baguette if desired.