We finally sold our old house and I spent a day there recently getting it ready for the closing, and one of the things I did just before I left was to harvest all the oregano, sage, thyme and chives I could, along with a couple of sheaves of lilies, hollyhocks and roses. The oregano went to some pesto for the freezer (if you haven't tried oregano pesto yet, don't deny yourself this treat any longer), the chives and thyme just replaced the bunches I've been buying at the farmers' market...but using up a lot of sage is a challenge, since a little sage goes a long way and can easily overpower other flavors.
In this sage risotto, however, the sage didn't overpower anything beacause it was the center of attention. Every bite was heavy with the wonderful power of sage, with the parmesan cheese and pancetta just strong enough to add some accent notes. After years of cautiously adding a leaf or two to various dishes, worried that the "whole thing would taste like sage," it was an empowering departure to just let go with both barrels of the sage gun. A fresh green salad (made from mesclun, radicchio, radishes and onions from our Wolf Pine Farm share) and a crusty bread and we had a great casual summer supper.
2 cups arborio rice
1 slice pancetta, cut in 1/4" dice
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups water
2 T butter
1/4 C chopped fresh sage, tighly packed (save a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/4 C Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
hot sauce to taste
fish sauce to taste
This is the basic recipe I use for risotto, from Elizabeth David's Italian Food:
"Into a heavy pan put a good ounce of butter....In the butter fry a small onion cut very fine; let it turn pale gold but not brown....Now add the rice, allowing about 3 oz. per person....Stir the rice until it is well impregnated with the butter. It must remain white. Now pour in two thirds of a tumbler of dry white wine and let it cook on a moderate flame until the wine has almost evaporated. At this moment start adding the stock...add about a breakfast cupful (in American terms, a regular measuring cup) at a time, and keep your eye on the risotto, although at this stage it is not essential to stir continuously. As the stock becomes absorbed add more; in all you will need about 2 pints for 10 - 12 oz of rice, and if this in not quite enough, dilute it with hot water. Towards the end of the cooking, which will take 20 - 30 minutes, stir continuously using a wooden fork rather than a spoon, which tends to crush the grains. When you see that the rice is tender, the mixture creamy but not sticky....add 1 oz each of butter and grated Parmesan, and serve the risotto as soon as the cheese has melted."
For the sage variation:
Combine the water and wine and place on a back burner over low heat to warm. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in your risotto pot and heat over medium high heat. Add the diced pancetta and sauté, stirring, until starting to crisp. Remove to a side plate. Add the finely chopped onions and sauté as directed above, then stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, until it turns milk white.Start adding the water/wine mixture cup at a time, stirring constantly and regulating the temperature to keep a slow simmer going. Add more liquid as it becomes absorbed...there should always be a quarter-inch or more of liquid on top until you are almost done, when you can let it get drier if you like. (Some people like their risotto soupier than I usually serve it -- you know who you are!) After about 10 minutes of adding liquid, etc., stir in half the pancetta and half the sage.
The hardest part is knowing when it's done. As Elizabeth says, the process takes 20 - 30 minutes, so that's a rough guide. As it starts to seem like it might be done, taste the rice: it should be firmly al dente
but not chalky-hard in the middle. If in doubt, stop when it's still a
little resistant to the tooth, remove from heat, cover and wait a few
minutes. It should be fine.
When you've decided it's done, stir in the reserved sage, the butter and the Parmigiano Reggiano and season to taste with hot sauce and fish sauce. (I found this last step to be extremely important with this particular risotto. If you don't have fish sauce on hand, use salt.)
To serve, place in a warmed bowl, top with a few pieces of the reserved pancetta, and garnish with a couple of sage leaves.