Of Rice and Weddings

chickpea soup

Monday:          Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary (CPC, 78)

Saffron Risotto

Tuesday:          Saffron Risotto (CPC, 171)

Pork and Beans

Wednesday:    Stir-fried Pork and Green Beans with Crispy Potatoes

Thursday:        Dunnings Meeting

Marc and Sally

Marc and Sally at Billy and Emily’s Engagement Party

Friday:              Marc and Sally festivities

Marc and friends

Marc (center) and friends Boo (Manhattan), Andrew (Brooklyn), Adam (Raleigh), Billy (Pittsburgh) at Over Eden the night before the wedding

 

Saturday:         Marc and Sally’s wedding

October Hydrangea

Rarer than good grilling weather in October in Pittsburgh – a late-blooming Hydrangea.  This is our local proof of global warming, glaciers having receded from Pittsburgh about 25,000 years ago.

Sunday:           Francis Mallman’s Spatch-Cocked Chicken Grilled with Rosemary in  mid October!

[Housekeeping:  Did you know that you can comment on the blog?  Scroll all the way down and you’ll find a box you can use to do that.  On the weeks when no one comments, I must confess that I feel as crazy (is anybody there?) as Robinson Crusoe before he saw Friday’s footsteps in the sand.  Also, feel free to send photos, recipes, etc. to billstewartjr@gmail.com, the pictures will probably end up in the blog, and the recipes may.]

 

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
When Harry [Marc] Met Sally

I don’t really know when Marc met his Sally, but last weekend, before family and friends, they confirmed their commitment in a beautiful ceremony, followed by the best wedding dinner I’ve ever eaten, followed by dancing and general hilarity, excess, and pleasure.

The wedding of these two fine, young people, who, we all agreed, were as lucky to find each other as we were to know them, was presided over by the droll and sophisticated Seena, another friend of Marc’s.  He mingled enough calm-voiced piety with his characteristic archness, so that we could both laugh and cry (I confess that I did).

I find it difficult to convey the warmth of this gathering of family and friends that began at Over Eden on Friday and ended on Saturday at Or the Whale, the fine restaurant at the new Distrikt Hotel.  But I can tell you that for the older folks in the crowd:  Marc’s parents Fran and Phil, Sally’s parents Mark and Nancy , Ron and Nancy and Beez and myself – one of the great joys of the weekend was to see how Marc, our Andrew and Billy, Nancy and Ron’s Boo, and Marc and Sally’s friends from all over the country fell back into the friendship and zaniness of their youth.  This group has stayed in touch with a regularity and intensity that, come to think of it, Beez and her friends, and I and my friends have.  In fact, the festivities over the weekend were as much reunion as wedding.

People say that you can pick your friends, but not your family.  That may cover the life experience of some stand-offish prigs, but for those of us who are open and welcoming, like the boys, Marc and Sally, and Beez and myself, our friends are often given to us by our neighborhood, our schools, and various other random but local geographical and actuarial realities.  One of the corollaries of this approach to friendship is that you will continue to make friends through the entirety of your life.

I’m pretty sure that that’s what Sally and Marc will do.  My only request is that they remember those of us from back in the day.  And, of course, remember whom they each have especially chosen.

The food at Or the Whale, from hors d’oeuvres through dinner to the spectacular desserts was superb.  The whole wedding took the cake, in part, because there was no cake:  that inedible concoction festooned with loops and rosettes of chalky icing and those jaw-breaking silver dots which the servers must dissect and deliver to so many people who don’t want to eat it.

If you want to recreate Marc and Sally’s wedding dinner, learn how to make great risotto* for 100 and then grill tomahawk pork chops and branzino perfectly for the same group.  If you’re not up for the cost of attending the CIA and the years of ill-paid apprenticeship required to cook like that, here’s a recipe from last Tuesday night that we loved:  A no-fuss risotto that delivers irresistible flavor.  Add a salad, and you’ve got a very good meal.  Grill a pork chop or some branzino, and you’ve got a great one.

*A much better use for rice than throwing it into people’s hair and trouser cuffs as used to be the fashion at weddings.

Saffron Risotto plate

SAFFRON RISOTTO

(adapted from Chez Panisse Cooking)

You will have noticed a number of Chez Panisse recipes over the last few weeks (or may not).  This beautiful cookbook, which I received years ago as a gift, had been languishing on one or another of our bookshelves for the simple reason that, when I received it, I could not manage the recipes it contained.  When I took the time to read the introductory material, remembering our own meal at Chez Panisse, last year, I decided that it was time to tackle this beast.  Oh, and I’d get this book, if I were you.

Timing:                                  45 minutes, tops

Ingredients:             Serves 4 as a side, 2-3 as a main dish with salad

1 cup Arborio rice (you need this type of rice for this risotto to work)

Large pinch of saffron threads [Do not skip this ingredient – I know that it’s expensive, but a vial or bottle will last and you only need a pinch for any recipe calling for saffron]

2 large slices of dried porcini (other flavorful dried mushrooms may be substituted)

1 ½ ounces of sliced and diced pancetta (we used the diced, not sliced, pancetta available, pre-packaged in many markets)

½ cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmigiano

4 cups hot turkey broth [College Inn’s packaged turkey broth works just fine]

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely diced (if you can’t find small yellow onions, except in large bags, at your market, use about 1/3 of those lollapaloozas they do offer)

¼ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

Prep:

Dice the onion and the pancetta, if you need to.

Measure out the other ingredients

Put the turkey broth in a small saucepan over medium and get it hot before you start cooking.

Cook:

Heat the olive oil in a heavy, 2 quart saucepot.  When hot, add the onion and sauté over medium-high for 4 minutes, until it colors lightly.  Note:  If you’re using a high BTU burner, you may need to turn down the heat – you want to slightly brown and soften the onion, not burn it.

Now add the rice, the saffron and the pancetta and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often to coat the rice with the oil and to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add the porcini and 1 ½ cups of the hot broth and the salt – enough broth to just cover the rice.  Stir well to combine the ingredients, then reduce the heat and simmer gently.

As the rice absorbs the broth, add more in ¼ cup or so amounts (maybe ½ a ladleful) while adjusting the heat to keep at a constant simmer.  Stir often and keep adding the rice to keep the level just above the rice (if it drops for a second or so, no big deal).

After 15 minutes of simmering, the rice should lose its hard-kernel consistency, but it will still be firm in the middle.

Now stir in the butter.  In the next 3 to 5 minutes the rice will finish cooking.

Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.

If the rice is still too firm, add a little more broth.  Be sparing – if you add too much broth in finishing, the rice and broth will separate, if too little it will become gummy.

Off the heat, stir in the Parmigiano and serve while it’s hot, sprinkling a little more cheese over each portion at the table.

October Hydrangea 2

What will surely be the last bloom of the year at Casa Stuarti, began to unfold on Wednesday.