Lake Como (Lago di Como) is one of the jewels of that treasure called Italy. It is famous around the world and rightly so. I cannot think of a stretch of it that is not worth visiting and no matter from which direction you approach it, you'll fall in love with it.
Living in Milan means having easy access to Lake Como. Many a Sunday, a short train ride would bring me to the station in Como. I had a friend in the city and with her I would spend some time sunbathing on the lake shore and then walking around the elegant downtown.
I have visited the lake again after moving to California, to show Como, Lecco, Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, etc. to my husband. It's easy to daydream while admiring the deep blue water on a sunny day, and I can understand visitors going back over and over again.
One of the villas built on its shore, Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, has been a hotel since 1873. The reason I mention it is the book Tales of Risotto, Culinary Adventures from Villa d'Este by Jean Govoni Salvadore and Luciano Parolari. The latter has been executive chef at Villa d'Este for over thirty years.
I did not grow up eating risotto, but rather learned about it after moving to Milan. Readers of this blog know that I am fond of risotto : it is straightforward to make, once you know the basics, and offers endless possibilities. The trick is to have the right ingredients, a bit of patience and a preference for minimalism. That's of course my opinion, but in reading Tales of Risotto, I learned that Chef Parolari and I agree on several counts.
The book contains 50 recipes for risotto divided into sections: cheese, vegetable and fruit, fish, shellfish, seasonal, poultry and meat. At the end, there are recipes for some traditional rice dishes like rice-stuffed tomatoes (pomodori col riso) and rice croquettes (supplì al telefono). At the beginning there is a general introduction where Chef Parolari talks about the fundamentals of risotto, including the basic steps that must be followed, regardless of the kind of risotto you are making. "Quality ingredients are the key to a perfect risotto," he writes, and "Do not overcook the rice."
Chef Parolari uses Carnaroli rice, which is also my favorite. It is relatively easy to find it in stores in the Bay Area. When I spot some at a good price, I stock up on it, so I have it on hand when I need it. (I also use Vialone nano.)
The other important ingredient of risotto is stock. The book includes recipes for various stocks. I make my own stocks (chicken, vegetable and fish) and freeze them, which is another thing that allows me to prepare a risotto any time I wish. Once you have rice and stock, you can make risotto with whatever the season offers and/or you have available. You can make a simple risotto alla parmigiana (with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese) or a rich risotto with Prosecco wine and oysters, just to give an example. The book contains a wide range of recipes, each with a headnote giving the recipe's story or background.
I have wanted to make risotto al gorgonzola (with Gorgonzola cheese) for a while. Seeing the recipe in the book told me it was time I did it. The photo of the piece of gorgonzola dolce (sweet Gorgonzola cheese) I purchased for the occasion allows me a short detour in the world of cheese making. First of all, in case you are wondering, Gorgonzola is the name of a town outside Milan. Gorgonzola is a blue-veined cheese and the photo shows the marks left by the probe used to pierce the cheese to bring oxygen inside it to allow proper mold development. The mold is added to the milk at the beginning of the cheese-making process. The piercing occurs 10 days or so after aging has begun and according to this page, it happens again 10 days later, on the other side of the wheel. End of detour.
I have received permission from the publisher to share with you the recipe for this simple, flavorful risotto. (The link goes to a reproduction of the page of the book that contains the recipe from Tales of Risotto, by Jean Govoni Salvadore and Luciano Parolari, copyright © 2006, published by Glitterati Incorporated, www.GlitteratiIncorporated.com)
I halved the quantities, using one cup of rice. With apologies to Chef Parolari, I skipped the cream and also the tomatoes, because tomato season is over and I did not feel like using tasteless tomatoes. The result is a risotto of a lovely white color with specks of green from the gorgonzola if you look closely. Once you start eating, you will close your eyes to better focus on the flavor of this deeply flavored dish.
I like this recipe not only because it uses one of my favorite cheeses, but also because it is nicely balanced in the amount of the various ingredients, an example of a perfect combination of all the parts that makes a magnificent whole.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:or launch the risotto al gorgonzola audio file [mp3].
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FTC disclosure: I have received a free review copy of the book mentioned in this post from the publisher. I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for discussing the book on my blog. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.