After more than a month of blazingly hot sun and mosquitoes, things are finally cooling down here. The cooler temperatures, coupled with the fact that Italian houses (many of which have large windows and tile floors) are designed to stay cool in the summer means it can get quite chilly indoors at night. (Oh, did I mention that the heat won't be on until November?) You can imagine how thankful I was, then, when we received this beautiful dish of risotto and lentils for dinner last night.
The rice, interspersed with earthy lentils, golden onion, and bits of sausage, was toothsome and hearty; it was the perfect meal for a dark, blustery night. The best part, however, was that I was able to watch Linda as she cooked it! Some time ago, she noticed that whenever she serves risotto, I absolutely devour it. I had also told her that I wanted to learn to make risotto properly, so she called me downstairs last night around when she had just begun to heat up some oil, onions, and sausage in a pan...
What follows is my attempt to write a recipe for Linda's Lentil Risotto (Risotto e Lentiche)
Serves 2 as a main course, 3 as a starter
In a saute pan over low heat, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of thinly sliced white onion and 1 1/2 tablespoons of crumbled sweet Italian sausage. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden but not brown.
Add 1 1/2 cups arborio rice, stir to combine with the onions, and cook until the rice is toasted. Raise the heat to high, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine, and let cook until the wine has completely evaporated (the mixture should bubble vigorously).
At this point, add 1 cup hot lentil broth*, stir, cover the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (contrary to popular belief, there is no need to constantly stir risotto). When all the liquid has absorbed, add another cup of broth, but this time add some of the lentils (about 1/2 cup) with the broth. Taste a bit of the rice and season with kosher salt as needed, then stir, cover, and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. As before, when the liquid had absorbed, add another cup of broth (and more lentils) and a few dashes of ground hot red pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon). Stir to combine, then cook, covered, over low heat, until the liquid has absorbed. Test the rice for doneness - if it is still crunchy or too chewy, add up to 1 more cup of broth, season with more salt if needed, cover, and cook as before.
Before serving, season with more salt to taste. It is important not to add too much broth or the rice will be overcooked. When done, the risotto will be creamy in consistency, but each grain of rice will still have some bite. Before serving, let the risotto sit in the pan, covered, for 5 minutes, then garnish with snipped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley. Buon appetito!
*In place of chicken or beef broth, Linda cooked the risotto using the liquid from the lentils, which contained carrots, celery, and sage. (She also added a dash of soy sauce.) The lentil "stock" is easy to make and imbued the whole dish with a lovely flavor. As long as you're cooking lentils, you might as well throw in a few aromatics into the water. That said, you could just as easily substitute any other kind of broth. You will probably need about 4 cups of broth in total, although it may turn out to be less.