Sighs are definitely in order. Big, yawning, from-the-core sighs have been happening around here a lot lately. There’s just so much going on. I find, too, that if you take three times longer than normal to inhale and exhale one breath, you get to slow down for just a moment – think, reorganize, maybe remember to tie a shoe, all the things that you forgot to do while you were running around like a crazy person. Or in some cases, while your brain was running like a crazy person.
For example, the other night I’m pretty sure I dreamt I was involved in some sort of Russian Revolution, 1905 or 1917 I can’t be sure, but I led it, right alongside Marcus Garvey. I happen, coincidentally, to be taking two history courses: Europe in the 20th Century, and Black Experience in the Americas.
Just yesterday, I was given a pop quiz in my British Renaissance lit class, which asked me to dutifully produce the names of the four versions of the Bible we had read the night before. In response, I started sweating, and my mind jumped forward about two hundred years to Absalom and Achitophel – something being covered not in that class, but my British Restoration class. All I could produce was a measly “King James Version;” it was certainly not one of my best pop quiz performances.
When political movements on different continents begin to converge, the lines between centuries begin to blur, and you’re dreaming out the history of interwar Europe, it’s never a good thing. My mind is brimming with revolutionaries and Reichtags and Calvinists and satirists, and at this point, sighing helps a little.
Risotto also helps. During weeks like these, I want dinner to be something comforting, yet easy to make. Risotto is just that. Its preparation is relatively mindless, which is good in times like these, because by the time dinner rolls around, my mind gets plain recalcitrant. But even better is the fact that the end product is pretty darn good, and it’s made even more so with a poached egg on top. And all that stirring can be downright therapeutic.
I made it on Tuesday, when my mind was already at max capacity with things to remember, and the end of the week wasn’t yet in sight. Risotto, combined with a healthy dose of deep, sigh-like breathing is now my go-to treatment for busy spells. I might even say that I would suffer through weeks like this again and again, as long as there’s a big batch of risotto waiting for me somewhere near Tuesday.
Butternut Squash and Leek Risotto
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
About 4 cups stock, preferably homemade
½ cup white wine
½ large white onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 leeks, light green and white parts only, chopped
1/3 to ½ cup butternut squash, peeled and very finely diced
Large handful grated Parmesan cheese
Put stock in a saucepan and heat it on low. Keep it warmed on the stovetop near your risotto pot.
Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, leeks and squash, and sweat for about 15 minutes. Everything should be softened and becoming translucent, but not browned.
Add the rice, and let it toast for a minute or so; stir it to incorporate it with the vegetables and the oil. Pour in a healthy glug of white wine, and stir until this is absorbed. Add ½ cup of the warmed stock, and stir until absorbed. From here on out, add and re-add the liquid in ½ cup intervals, stirring throughout. This process should take about 25-30 minutes. When you’re nearing the end of your stock, start tasting the risotto to check for doneness. It should be just barely al dente. Warm more stock if necessary.
At the very end, add in your cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want to be rich about it, or particularly artery-clogging, finish it with a few tablespoons of butter. Serve warm.
This can be refrigerated and it keeps well for a few days; I like to make a big batch so I can reheat it later on.
Note: Though I was tormented in my youth for having hairier-than-average arms, the arms in the second picture are not my own. I had a helper, who was male, and who is decidedly hairier than I am. Just thought I'd clear that up. Clearly, I have a complex.