“Emergency Risotto” from “Midnight Chicken”

The following paragraph has four facts that will date me terribly. I don’t care.

The first time I made risotto, I was a newlywed trying to impress my husband in our two-bedroom Chicago apartment. I found the recipe I wanted to make by reading on paper* the Chicago Tribune’s Food section, which I duly saved.* The recipe was for “Bill Clinton*’s Favourite White House Risotto.” I had to go to Treasure Island, our local supermarket* that was known for having more unusual ingredients, in this case, arborio rice, which I had never used before. We ate it, we loved it, and we’ve been making it ever since.

  • Fact One: Who reads a newspaper on paper anymore? In this house, it’s a special occasion reserved for the weekends.
  • Fact Two: I cut the recipe out and then saved it on a laminated sheet in a photo album so I could make it again. Who does that now? It’s such a sweet memory it makes my heart swell with nostalgia.
  • Fact Three: Ah, the Bill Clinton years. This was in the halcyon early years, pre-Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment hearings. For those of you in the back not paying attention, he was U.S. President in the last century, from 1993 to 2001.
  • Fact Four: Remember the bad old days when a recipe called for an ingredient you had never heard of and then you had to go on an actual hunt in actual stores for it? I think we don’t give Google/the Internet the credit it deserves for making our life so much easier.

So yes. I’m old. Or at least middle aged. (I read once on a throw pillow that you’re only as old as you feel. If that’s the case, I feel like I’m in my early 30s.)

But back to risotto. We love it. I’ve tried probably thousands of variations over the years. Once you know the drill– fry onions, fry the rice, add wine, slowly add stock, finish with whatever fun stuff you want– it’s a dinner that can get done in 20 minutes. Ella, similarly, extolls the beauty of a great risotto and gives tips on good ones to make depending on the season.

I took her advice to heart and did a prawn and pea risotto. It wasn’t in the guidelines she printed, but I thought she would approve. Was this recipe good? It was. It was a bit heavy on the garlic for our taste, but that’s a minor quibble.

Risotto, always, for the win. Even those that were printed last century.

“Emergency Risotto” from “Midnight Chicken”

“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”

img_7952Oh my. This is going to be a long month.

Risotto: What’s not to love? Going back through the Cookbook a Month archives, it appears that this family has tested at least 12 different recipes for risotto through the years. Our love of risotto goes back even further, as I distinctly recall the first time I made it, using a recipe from the Chicago Tribune written by the head chef of the Clinton White House.

That’s the FIRST Clinton White House. Yes. I’m dating myself.

But back to the latest test. As anyone who’s made risotto knows, the key to a successful risotto is lashings of butter and cheese. I’m pretty sure that in Jamie Oliver’s earliest books, he called for exactly that. Unfortunately, this one had neither.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with this risotto.

In fact, as we were discussing it as a family, we started to use air quotes around the word risotto every time we used the word. I think that tells you everything you need to know.

Aside from the obvious lack of butter and cheese, I feel what this “risotto” lacked was any sort of goodness. It didn’t taste horrible, but neither did it taste lovely or joyful. It tasted as if it had been devised by a nutritionist who had to write recipes for someone who was recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery who needs to give up all fat and tasty ingredients.

Alas, we are not recovering from triple-bypass surgery.

I know that Jamie is now studying to be a nutritionist (through private tutors, natch), but I really do think this recipe signals an unhappy way forward for him. Good on him for wanting to make everyone eat better and with more awareness of good nutrition, but what happened to the Joyful Jamie we knew and loved? You know the one: put in a nob of butter here, a few turns of parmesan there, bingo.

This tastes and feels as though the recipe was written by committee. This is not a good thing.

Would we eat it again? Obviously, no. We’ll return to those that call for lashings of butter and cheese. It makes us all happier.


“Tomato Risotto” from “Superfood Family Classics”

“Asparagus Risotto” from “Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube”

IMG_6992When I made this dinner, I knew this would be a sure thing. There isn’t often in life where you can be certain that “A Sure Thing” will materialise– see the 1985* movie with John Cusack if you don’t know what I’m talking about– but this is one of those times.


We’ve always loved risotto. I’ve been making it since we were first married– it was a recipe from Bill Clinton’s White House, so that tells you how long ago that was. After we moved here in 1999, I made it again (and again and again) when I watched Jamie Oliver do it on his first series, “The Naked Chef.”

I’ve got the method down pat now. Gennaro Contaldo, the star of this video, does a good job of showing people how to best make risotto, if they’ve never done it before. Two of the unique things he did in his version of asparagus risotto were first to cut the asparagus into slivers, and then to take the tips and cut them in half vertically. Excellent tips, both.

This was a sure thing. Everyone loved it. At the end of the video, Gennaro takes a bite and says, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I feel exactly the same way whenever I have risotto. Love it.

If you’d like to see the video yourself, it’s here:

“Asparagus Risotto” from “Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube”

“Triple Tomato Risotto” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

CBAMRisottoNicholas (10): What is this?

Maureen: Everybody’s favourite: Risotto! What do you think?

Andrew (14): I think the tomato is overpowering, and it takes away from the risotto taste.

Nicholas: I agree. It’s like there’s two tastes that both want attention, and neither is winning.

Tim: I think it’s like a party in my mouth where I don’t know too many people.

Andrew: So it’s sort of awkward.

Nicholas: It sounds like a bad party to me.

Tim: Also, the creamy goodness of a typical risotto doesn’t come through.

Maureen: That’s because there’s no parmesan and butter to finish it off, like I usually do. Mary uses creme fraiche instead, which I think is a bit of a cheat.

Tim: Also, I think the tomatoes are too acidic and the peas don’t add anything.

Maureen: Yes. I am befuddled by the peas. Why add them at all if it’s called a triple tomato risotto? Also, it’s not just tomatoes that are in here, she also uses red peppers, not to mention the peas. I think calling it a garden vegetable risotto would be more accurate.

Tim: I think the peas were there to just add some contrast.

Maureen: So, not a winner then.

Andrew: No. Just make our usual risotto next time.

Maureen: Agreed.

“Triple Tomato Risotto” from “Mary Berry Cooks”

“Pea, Asparagus and Mint Risotto” from “Gino’s Italian Escape”

CBAMRisottoNicholas (10): Yeah! Risotto!

Maureen: Yes. It’s everyone’s favourite. What do you think?

Andrew (14): There’s something strange in there.

Maureen: That would be the mint. I don’t think I’ve ever made a risotto with mint in it.

Andrew: Well, I don’t like it.

Nicholas: Neither do I.

Tim: What’s with the asparagus this time of year? Talk about food miles.

Maureen: Yes, the asparagus did come all the way from Peru to join us.

Tim: That’s absurd.

Maureen: I agree. But I wanted to make risotto, and this one sounded nice.

Tim: Well, the next time you want to make an asparagus risotto, wait until the spring, when they’re in season here.

Maureen: I completely agree.

Andrew: This is fine, but I like our usual risotto better.

Nicholas: Me too.

Maureen: Do you mean the one with lashings of butter and cheese?

Tim: Yup. That’s the one.

Maureen: OK. So noted on the record. No asparagus in autumn and lashings of butter and cheese. Got it.

“Pea, Asparagus and Mint Risotto” from “Gino’s Italian Escape”

“Risotto with Peas and Greens” from “It’s All Good”


Kirstin: I had a lovely time getting this risotto ready even though I am the world’s worst stirrer.

Tom: It smelt delicious from upstairs.

Kirstin: It tastes good too. I particularly love the lemon.

Tom: And no cheese, you say?

Kirstin: None of that bad boy nonsense for Gwyneth!


“Risotto with Peas and Greens” from “It’s All Good”

“Arancini” from “Polpo”

Maureen: I finally made arancini successfully! Hooray!

Tim: I made arancini once.

Maureen: You did? I don’t remember that.

Nicholas (9): Pictures or it didn’t happen, Dad. You know the rules.

Maureen: What do you think?

Tim: They are super-cool-awesome!


Maureen: Thanks. I am pretty pleased with them. What do you think boys?

Andrew (13): Eh. (Shrugs shoulders, to Maureen’s dismay.)

Nicholas: They’re OK, I guess.

Tim: Did you dip them in egg?

Maureen: I didn’t have to. The risotto was so creamy that you didn’t have to dip it in egg to make the polenta stick. Continue reading ““Arancini” from “Polpo””

“Arancini” from “Polpo”

“Butternut Risotto” from “Polpo”

Maureen: Another one for Meat Free Monday. What do you think?

Andrew (13): It’s nice.

Nicholas (9): I”m not so sure.

Maureen: I think it’s great. It was a total faff to make it, compared to other risottos I’ve made, but it’s still good. I needed to make my own vegetarian stock. The next time I make this, I’ll just use standard vegetable stock, like I always do.


Andrew: Actually, the more I eat it, the less sure about it I am.

Nicholas: Yes, I agree. I don’t think I like it.

Maureen: What’s not to like about it?

Andrew: Well, the butternut squash. (Maureen looks over and realises that Andrew is eating only the rice and is eating AROUND the butternut squash. Nicholas starts to do the same.)

Maureen: How could you not like butternut squash? It’s great.

Andrew: I just don’t, that’s all.

Nicholas: Me neither.

Maureen: Obviously you take after your father in that regard. He doesn’t like it either. I think you’re all crazy. It’s good and I like it.

Andrew: I like the other risotto you make better.

Maureen: Which one?

Andrew: Any of them.

Nicholas: Yes, any risotto but this one would be good the next time you make risotto.

Maureen: OK. So not a firm family favourite then. If I make it again, I’ll make it for myself.

Cook’s Notes: As noted above, they want you to make the vegetable stock yourself while you’re roasting the butternut squash. Frankly, I don’t think it was worth the effort. In fact, I found the stock somewhat lacking in flavour and ending up adding a dash of vegetable stock bouillon just so it wouldn’t taste of water.

However, I did glean one excellent tip from this recipe. In the past, whenever I roasted butternut squash inevitably some of it ended up burned. To counteract this, Polpo recommends covering the squash with foil when you’re roasting it. It was a perfect solution, and no squash was burned in the making of this recipe.

“Butternut Risotto” from “Polpo”

“Chilli Crab Risotto” from “Nigellissima”

Anna: This looks very appetising. I love the picture the picture in the book, and ours has turned out exactly the same!

Peter: It’s a nice, light risotto. It tastes kind of summery, but maybe that’s the crab.

Anna: It is light. No butter, no cheese, just a little bit of olive oil at the beginning of the process. But it’s lovely and creamy anyway.

Peter: Is this authentically Italian, or has she made it up?

Anna: Funny you ask that. She has done this recipe as linguine previously in Forever Summer. And so confesses in the introduction that she’s basically turned it into a risotto for this book. I love crab spaghetti and crab linguine as you know. We’ve had Nigella’s, we’ve had Bill’s, Lucas Hollweg’s, the River Cafe’s and Angela Hartnett’s. So I had to make this.

Peter: Where does this rank?

Anna: Well this is a risotto, not pasta, so I can’t compare it directly. But what I will say is that while this is delicious, I do prefer it as a pasta-based dish. It’s quicker to make. And less heavy to eat.

“Chilli Crab Risotto” from “Nigellissima”

“Leek and Pea Risotto” from “Food”

Maureen: Ah. Another risotto. We could become a risotto test kitchen. I think we’ve got the experience. [Note: We’ve tested risotto in January 2011, May 2011, August 2011, February 2012 and July 2012.]   What do you think?

Tim: It’s fine.

Andrew (12): It’s OK, but it’s not as good as our usual risotto.

Maureen: Do you mean the one with lashings of butter and cheese?

Andrew: Yes, that’s the one.

Nicholas (9): I agree with Andrew. The other one is better.

Maureen: This one is much healthier, though. There’s not nearly as much butter and cheese as I usually put in. In fact, if you were a vegan, you could probably take out the butter and the cheese and it wouldn’t taste hugely different from this.

Tim: Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe for a good risotto you need butter and cheese.

Maureen: Could be. So should I make this version again?

Andrew: No. Please make the one you usually do.

Nicholas: I’m with Andrew on this one.

Maureen: It seems to me that we still haven’t found a risotto recipe that is better than the Giorgio Locatelli one. But we will keep trying!

Cook’s Notes: Sorry, this recipe can’t be found on the Internet anywhere, but that’s OK, because I think there’s better risotto recipes out there. The biggest problem was the amount of rice it called for– only a measly 250 grams– which she said would serve four people. Let me assure you that 62.5 grams of risotto per person wouldn’t do it in this house. So I increased it to 400 grams, which was sufficient. Beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish this recipe from any other risotto recipe, other than the reduced amount of cheese and butter used. Like I said, it would be a good recipe for a vegan, because I think they could omit them and it would still be fine. But for this family, we won’t be using this recipe again.

“Leek and Pea Risotto” from “Food”