Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Go Figure

It all started with a hunk of cheese.

Trying to decide what to make for dinner last night, I kept coming back to the wedge of parmesan in my fridge. In a weak and rushed moment, I accidentally bought "parmesan" on my last trip to the store, rather than my beloved parmigiano-reggiano - the good stuff - the real thing, baby. I wanted to make use of it, and in all honesty, I didn't have much else to go on. You know those nights, right? The nights when the fridge is looking so desolate, that you wonder desperately if ketchup and old carrots might go well together? (They do not, by the way)

I haphazardly dashed around my neighborhood with the 3 dollars I had, and wondered if it was too late in the season to buy some figs. They are generally harvested in May, and then again in late August. After October, they are not likely to be found at the market until the next spring. My hunk needed a leading lady, and figs and cheese have magical chemistry... surely I could piece together a whole meal on the foundation of figs and a parmesan wedge. I found some Black Mission Figs (which figures, since that varietal travels well and is therefore the most common), checked ripeness with my thumb, and parted ways with my Washingtons.

In ancient times, figs were considered sacred. Not surprising; their taste is surpassed only by their luxurious texture and tempting beauty. Figs are alluringly sexy.

The vision that I had for my muse du jour was a starring role in a creamy parmesan-risotto. My working title was, "Honey-Roasted Fig Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto." I started by preheating the oven, and preparing the figs and prosciutto for roasting. Risotto done right takes about an hour (in my humble, slow-cooking opinion. Most recipes will tell you 20-30 minutes is sufficient). It is definitely a labor of love and patience, but I always find the end result to be worth it. Not only that, but I also find the process itself very soothing. Risotto must be stirred constantly. Pushing around those grains of Arborio rice for 60 whole minutes can seem like a daunting chore, but from my point of view, the process can also seem like meditating in a personal zen garden. Instead of raking sand, I'm making dinner. Some nice classical music helps, too.

The ending is a very anti-climactic one. The experience of selecting and preparing the figs, and the calming zen of the risotto preparation was a much greater sensual experience than the consumption of the final dish. It wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't wow me, either. If you would like the recipe in greater detail, I am happy to provide it to you at your request. I would love to incorporate any suggestions. For now, I leave you with sexy fig photos.

Update: Better yet, take a risotto class to learn the technique. I like to add my stock about 1/3 cup at a time, but the best way to find your perfect risotto is to practice!


Anne said...

I cook risotto for 20 minutes; why do you cook it for 60?

Veronica said...

I like to cook it and stir it reallllly slow (and low). I went back and pointed out that it's my method, not the norm. Thanks for reminding me to add that disclaimer to my article, that was really irresponsible journalism. I need an editor! :)

Anne said...

But I need clarification: what is the benefit of cooking risotto really low and slow? I thought it would turn to mush, but is slow cooking the better way? I've heard of baking risotto for an hour to avoid stirring.

Veronica said...

I've definitely added too much liquid before, and it can get mushy, but I've also felt like it's too chewy for me if I add a whole cup, stir for 5 minutes, repeat. I think the difference is I add less liquid at a time, so I add 1/3 cup, stir for 5 minutes and repeat, and it just takes longer. I'm not sure if it's necessarily better, but I like the results a little better. And I like the stirring part. I think I probably just need to get a life!