Since returning from our respective trips abroad, Tawn and I have been taking a lot of our meals at home, making them ourselves. I’m not sure if this is just in response to being away for so long, or whether it is in response to a pair of books I’ve recently finished reading: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.
Both of these books talk about our relationship with food and both discuss the virtues of eating whole foods that are produced locally and in sustainable ways. Interestingly, neither book is preachy. Rather, they simply explore the issues and let readers draw their own conclusions.
This is something I’ll probably write more about in the future as it is something I’ve thought a lot about and continue to think a lot about, especially here in Thailand where concepts such as “organic”, “local” and “sustainable” are very different and often less well-developed. Also, the novelty of processed foods is high as this is a newer phenomenon in Thailand than in, say, the United States or Canada. That’s why I’m seeing more and more young Thais – secondary school students, for example – who are big, really big.
Anyhow, I’m not going to get into that now. Let me instead share with you the dinner we made Wednesday night. Hot on the heels of his two weeks in Italy, Tawn has been craving Italian food. (This seems to be the case with his parents, too. Speaking with Khun Nui – Tawn’s mother – last night, she told me that Khun Sudha has been preparing spaghetti nearly every night since they returned!)
To address this craving, I cracked open the risotto cookbook to see what sounded appetising. The zucchini and ricotta risotto sounded lovely, fresh and seasonal with hints of mint to brighten the dish.
The recipe is actually quite easy. You dice and fry zucchini in the skillet then set it aside with some mint and parsley to cool. Wanting to add a bit of meat to the dinner, I also marinated and pan-friend some chicken breasts.
Then you cook the risotto, a process that consumes a bit of time (30 minutes) and all of your attention (you have to keep stirring, stirring, stirring) but is not complicated:
Sweat some onions, garlic and shallots in olive oil and butter over medium heat until translucent. Add the risotto rice and stir for a few minutes until very lightly toasted and glistening with the oil.
Add a bit of dry white wine and stir until the liquid evaporates. Then start adding hot stock (I used homemade chicken stock, but vegetable stock works, too) one ladleful at a time, stirring continuously until the liquid is evaporated.
Once the liquid is evaporated, add another ladleful of stock and continue the process for the next twenty minutes or so, until the mixture is thick, creamy, and the rice is done al dente.
At that point you add the ricotta cheese, the zucchini mixture, and shave in some Parmesan. Stir for a few minutes until the cheese melts and, if necessary, add a little more stock to fix the texture. Season to taste then serve.
Sadly, the brand of ricotta at our local market is one I don’t like. The texture is too dry, like feta, and it never really melts. Instead, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. As such, the risotto didn’t have as much creamy cheesiness as I was looking for.
Nonetheless, it was a tasty risotto.
I also had the time to pull together a bottomless apple pie, although I cheated and used prepared pastry dough. In a hot kitchen in a hot country, making pie dough from scratch is quite difficult. It simply gets too warm. Maybe if I get a marble pastry board that fits in the refrigerator I will have more luck.
Nonetheless, a pretty decent Wednesday night meal.
On other notes, thanks to all of you who commented on and recommended the previous post about lessons I wish I had known when I started working. Somehow the word got out and the blog received a spike in traffic. Lots of new people walking through this corner of the internet. Welcome to all of you!