The Season of Mush

The Kitchn’s Cooking School
Lesson 10: Rice and Grains

It is cold now in Bangkok, at 23 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit). But I made risotto on Saturday when it was 10 degrees warmer. I already had a dirt-cheap bottle of white wine with a respectable-looking label design sitting on the table and the second cheapest parmesan cheese you could find in the supermarket waiting in the fridge. But even a lesser parmesan cheese—in this case, pre-grated—should go to a worthy cause, not straight from the bag and into my mouth, which is likely when I’m busy, hungry, and uninspired all at once. And risotto is a worthy cause for parmesan.

’Tis the season of mushy food, after all. In Bangkok, you’re lucky if you get a whole week of cool weather in a year. That’s why I rarely order risotto at a restaurant. It’s too heavy to be eaten in a hot and humid city. Then there’s the bread (always too difficult not to reach for) and the appetizer (always too difficult not to order just to get a taste) that fills you up by the time the risotto arrives.

But then again, hot weather in “winter” didn’t stop me from making a heavy and warm mushy dish like April Bloomfield’s delicious English porridge. The recipe actually made me want to cook porridge on a regular basis. Since I eat alone, it lasts for a few days. So the 20 minutes of fuss in the beginning is well worth it.

The Kitchn’s risotto recipe makes enough for four to six people. So the hour of fuss in the beginning is well worth it, especially if you live alone and are not obligated to share it with anyone. I really enjoyed making it. It’s a great concentration exercise—the perfect food to cook in silence. I love cooking food that makes you stick with it for a while, constantly checking and adjusting. I did exactly as instructed in the recipe, adding only shiitake mushrooms to the soffrito, the flavor base. If you’re new to risotto, I highly recommend this. The mushrooms bring such a rich, beautiful earthy flavor to the dish.

My first risotto: A shiitaki mushroom risotto topped with dark opal basil leaves

The sheer amount of the risotto I made felt daunting at first. But the fun continues into the reheating process. I love that you can keep improving and playing with the flavor of the risotto. Even though risotto is a complete dish in itself, I like treating it the way I treat plain rice—a base of a dish that you can keep adding other flavors to.

The first time I reheated the risotto, I was in a rush, so I just added wine and stuck it into the microwave. Too much wine. The flavor came out too strong. The next time, I reheated the risotto in a pan with water and a little bit of wine. Then, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper to finish. Better. Yesterday, I boiled some broccoli (another mushy something!) and used the same water, along with two tablespoons of white wine and some butter, to reheat the risotto. Then I topped the risotto with some boiled broccoli, a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper. Much more delicious. The taste of the mushroom had deepened. The broccoli added not only another texture, but also another layer of saltiness. The lemon juice brightened up the whole thing. The faint taste of wine that reappeared only with certain bites was glorious. And that little glob of butter didn’t hurt.

Whatever was left of the broccoli I had for dinner, reheated in the microwave, sharpened with a clove of grated fresh garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil. It’s cheap olive oil, but not without a faint grassy flavor. I relished that simple, comforting concoction. And then I thought, with a hint of regret, A drizzle of olive oil. The risotto this afternoon!

Next time.