A couple of days ago, it felt as if spring was already here in our neck of the woods…the birds were singing and it was quite mild for the time of the year. But these thoughts did not last very long as the temperatures made a sudden nose dive and the chill has once again set in. Not that I mind…in fact, I find nature not acting according to the norm, a bit unsettling.
Now, some say ‘Comfort food is typically inexpensive, uncomplicated, and easy to prepare. Many people turn to comfort food for familiarity, emotional security, or special reward. The reasons a dish becomes a comfort food are diverse but often include pleasant associations of childhood. Small children often seem to latch on to a specific food or drink (in a way similar to a security blanket) and will repeatedly request it in high stress situations. Adults eat comfort food for a sense of continuity.’(wiki)
Science attempts to explain our need for comfort food as a chemical reaction in the brain. The brain releases certain “feel good” hormones into the body to compensate for all the different negative feelings that overwhelm us in every day life like: fatigue, stress, illness etc.. Comfort foods are also tied to times and places in our memories that remind of us safety, joy, warmth and well, comfort. But, the choice of comfort food also differs from person to person…one person’s comfort food is another person’s dieting nemesis.
Well, I do agree with all of the above….for me, comfort food has always been something which has that homely feel to it and makes me feel good…something warm…something that makes me feel like a child again… something filling at the same time. And I feel all that from ma’s mugor dalir khichidi’…oh! how I love it! Just can’t have enough. Every spoonful evokes such memories.
But as time passed, another dish has come to make me equally happy…and that is the risotto…
Risotto is a traditional Italian dish made with a suitable variety of rice such as arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy.When risotto is cooked, the rice is first cooked briefly in butter or olive oil until evenly coated and the rice starts to turn translucent, before broth is added, one ladle at a time.
There are different types of risotto, but they all require four basic ingredients…sauteed vegetables (vegetables and onion sauteed in butter in the same pan that the rice will be cooked); broth(beef, chicken, vegetable, fish etc, which forms the basis of a good risotto); flavouring ingredients(anything from vegetables to saffron, meat, seafood, truffle or wine); and Italian rice(being rich in starch, they can absorb considerable amounts of cooking liquid without losing their firmness).Towards the end, butter and cheese(usually parmigiano) are added to complete the dish.
It was during a course that I was doing that I came into contact with it. It was a very intensive course… had to be out of the house by six and return twelve to thirteen hours later…on top of that were the daily assignments. During the day, we were forever making trips to and from the class and the resource centre, which were quite a distance apart.
The only time we got to sit down and relax for a while, if we were lucky enough, was at lunch break. Although, during most lunch breaks, we were usually grabbing something on the go from the canteen; however, at times, we did manage to actually sit down for a while and fill ourselves. That was when I was introduced to the risotto. In all the bustle, a nice warm and creamy bowl of it, was really very comforting and gave me the much needed boost to return to my assignments for the rest of the day with renewed vigour.
Although my love affair with risotto is quite recent ( approximately three years…)… I too feel that warm satisfying sensation when I have it. Even when I am cooking it, I can already feel the warmth envelope me and make me sigh..a sigh of being comforted.
This time round, I made a baked risotto variation…in other words, I made everything in the oven…
and here’s how I did it-
2 C of arborio rice
1 small onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 orange pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
1 courgette, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
10 C ( may need a little more) of vegetable stock
1 tsp rosemary (I used the dried kind)
a pinch of saffron strands, crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
25 gms of parmesan cheese, grated
2-3 tblsp of olive oil
- Pre heat the oven at 220 deg C.
- Place the onion, garlic, yellow and orange peppers, tomatoes, courgettes in a roasting tin with a little salt and drizzle with the olive oil.
- Toss well, and bake in the centre of the pre heated oven for 20-25 minutes or till the onions and tomatoes are soft.
- Remove the tin from the oven and add the rice, saffron and rosemary rosemary.
- Stir for a minute an add the stock.
- Stir well and return to the oven for another 40 minutes or till the rice is cooked through and there is still a little liquid left…add a little more if it dries out too much (the rice will keep absorbing the liquid even after it is not being cooked). Stir a couple of times in between.
- Remove from the oven and stir in the cheese.
- Serve hot .
It was a really tasty dish…the roasted vegetables mingled well with the rest of the spices and herbs and produced a very aromatic dish packed with flavours. We did enjoy it very much, and needless to say was comforted by it. So I’m hurrying this bowl of risotto over to Meeta for her Monthly mingle-comfort foods.