Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Risotto is the ultimate Italian comfort food. It's the perfect dish after a long, hard day (as long as you're willing to take the time to make it!). With its creamy texture and rich flavor, the risotto (pronounced ree-zoe-toe) truly melts in your mouth. Some people complain that risotto doesn't taste like anything, and on its own, it's somewhat true. But add some wine (white or red will do), extra Parmesan cheese, and any assortment of meat or vegetables to your recipe, and the rice immediately takes on that ingredient's essence, creating a new and robust taste your mouth will not soon forget.

Unlike Asian rice that tends to be slightly dry, Italian rice is rich and extremely creamy. Typically risotto is made with Arborio rice which is an Italian medium-grain rice which remains "al dente" (somewhat firm) and becomes creamy when cooked. Risotto dishes originated in northern Italy, which would explain why it's such a large part of my family's cuisine. The great thing about risotto, aside from its taste, is that you can do so many different things with it. You can add wine (red or white, like stated above), seafood, sausage, chicken, prosciutto, asparagus, carrots, peas, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, the options are only limited by your palate and your imagination.

Risotto (basic recipe)

Serving Size: 4
Time: 5 minutes preparation; 40 minutes cooking

1 quart chicken/vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups of rice (arborio or vialone nano)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Bring broth to simmering point. Put the oil, 4 Tablespoons of the butter, and the chopped onion into a heavy-bottomed pot and saute gently until onion is soft and translucent. Add the rice and cook for one minute, stirring constantly so the rice is coated with the oil and butter. Pour 1/2 cup of the broth over the rice and cook, stirring regularly until the liquid is nearly all absorbed.
Continue adding broth to the rice (1/2 cup at a time) until gone.
When the rice is tender, but al dente, take the pot off the heat and mix in the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese. Add a little pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

To include wine, I usually add white wine before pouring in the first 1/2 cup of broth.
If your vegetables are raw, add them after the rice has been cooking for about 10 minutes.
If you are using roasted peppers or sundried tomatoes (both of which are amazing with risotto), add those prior to adding the last bit of butter and the Parmesan.
If including seafood or meat, make sure it's been cooked prior to adding it before the Parmesan.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Eternal Quest for Great Gelato, Part 2

Have you ever had a hankering for one of those discontinued sticky treats from your youth? Just down the street from the aforementioned Dolce Spazio sits the ultimate candy store, Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, who specializes in those tantalizing favorites. A soundtrack of old movie songs plays in the background while children young and old scurry from one delicious treat to the next, remembering their favorite candies from a time gone by and discovering new delights along the way. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory takes its place on the back wall, repeatedly playing through the classic children’s story. Usually it’s the parents that stop to watch the movie, rather than their children, who are far more taken with the surprises that they find with each new candy toy from their parents’ generation and older. Even the oldest customer is transformed into “a kid in a candy shop” upon entering. Because of the stunning amount of candy covering the store like a blanket, many customers often overlook the bevy of gelato flavors near the register, which is my primary reason for visiting.

On my most recent visit to Powell’s, I discovered that they serve Ciao Bella Gelato, a brand that originated in New York’s Little Italy from a Torino recipe and oddly enough, is sold pint-sized at Costco. More than Dolce Spazio, Powell’s features flavors found in any gelateria in Italy, including spumoni, tiramisu, pistachio, coppa mista, cappuccino, dark chocolate, and a variety of sorbetto. I’ve tried several flavors, but so far, the only two that immediately transport me to an Italian piazza is their dark chocolate and tiramisu gelato. From the perfect creamy, smooth texture to the dark, intense flavor, every bite teases me into believing that I’m in Rome and not on the streets of Los Gatos. It melts in your mouth (and I don’t just mean literally because it’s gelato); the flavors are richer and more intense than ice cream, bringing greater pleasure to your taste buds than even a pint of Häagen Dazs’s famous dulce de leche. Powell’s also offers three different serving sizes, and encourages all guests to mix flavors.

Verdict: The dark chocolate and the tiramisu are, I believe, even better than Dolce Spazio, mainly due to the fact that they have a creamier texture (which is closer to true Italian gelato). Just don’t try mixing Powell’s candy with their gelato; it will ruin the gelato experience.

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe

35 N. Santa Cruz Ave.

Los Gatos