Happy Italian American Day, I mean, Columbus Day! I will never forget my first Columbus Day after moving to Chicago. My Mom was here visiting me in my new city. I went to meet her for lunch in the park and much to our surprise, there was a huge parade and celebration going on. Every float had blaring music, mostly Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. All of the names on the banners advertising various politicians ended in vowels. Every other group was sponsored by an Italian restaurant. The air was thick with the delicious aroma of garlic and parmesan. We couldn’t stop giggling at what seemed like a blatant parody. It was like The Sopranos on parade!
I hadn’t ever considered that Columbus was Italian and so his ancestors might adopt the day as their very own Italian pride day. I guess I had never lived in a city with such a large Italian heritage though. This year, Tommy LaSorda is the Parade Marshall, The Sicilian Band of Chicago will be featured during the celebration, and the theme is “A Salute to Italian American Elected Officials”. Go figure.
In celebration of Columbus Day, our Meatless Monday menu will give a nod to the Italians (just not to their sausages or beef). Enjoy the following Risotto recipe with some crusty garlic bread and a caprese salad!
1 oz dried porcini
3/4 cups hot water
5 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 lb fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 lb Arborio rice (2 1/3 cups)
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Soak porcini in 1 1/2 cups hot water in a bowl until softened, about 20 minutes. Lift porcini out, squeezing liquid back into bowl. Rinse to remove any grit and coarsely chop. Pour soaking liquid through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or a dampened paper towel into a 3 quart saucepan, then add broth, soy sauce, and remaining 2 1/4 cups water to pan and bring to a simmer. ***(Or you can skip this whole step and use extra fresh mushrooms in the next step and just put soy in the broth and add extra hot water).
Meanwhile, heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 5 quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and fresh mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until mushrooms are browned and any liquid they give off is evaporated, about 8 minutes.
Stir in porcini and cook, stirring, 1 minute, then add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.
Stir 1 cup simmering broth into rice and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is tender and creamy looking but still al dente, 18 to 20 minutes. Thin with some of remaining broth if necessary. (You will have about 1 cup left over.)
Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, salt, pepper, and remaining 5 tablespoons butter until butter is melted. (You can omit some of the butter if you are watching your waistline…it just makes it less creamy).
Stir parsley into remaining risotto and serve immediately.
Recipe: Caprese Salad
2-3 vine ripe tomatoes
1 pound fresh mozzarella
20-30 basil leaves
~ 1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
~ 1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
Slice tomatoes and mozzarella in ¼ inch thick slices. Layer alternating slices of tomato, cheese, and basil leaves onto a platter. Finely chop a few basil leaves to sprinkle on top. Drizzle with oil just before serving (and balsamic if desired). Lightly season with salt and pepper.