Charlotte is my dear friend, fellow Control Groupian, astoundingly talented creator, and intrepid adventurer. This is a story about her mother.
Her mother is incorrigibly generous. It is a problem. Every time she visits, she brings bags and bags of wonderful gifts for our house. Every time Charlotte comes back from visiting home, she is laden with presents and invariably some new sort of arcane kitchen utensil (which, of course, suits me fine).
This saffron risotto was dedicated to Charlotte’s mother, through and through. But lest you think I flirt with the sentimental, I should preface this by saying I didn’t even really have a say in the matter; for Charlotte’s mother was present in some form or another at every stage of the process. I was merely the vehicle for her generous spirit manifesting in our home.
I stayed with Charlotte and her parents at their home on Long Island over Thanksgiving. It was the best. Reading by the fire, nippy walks in the afternoon, French onion soup, bike rides, photo adventures by day and night, candlelight and wine at supper, and wonderful company throughout. I could not have been more welcomed or more comfortable.
Every time I open the cupboards or drawers in our kitchen, I’m reminded of that week. And last Saturday it all became too much and I needed to let the things speak.
Charlotte’s mother returned from Spain the day after we arrived in late November, bearing marzipan, violet candies, and small glass jars of saffron. And these tangled stigmas were exceptionally fragrant.
While we were there, she made us the most flavourful French onion soup. And disarmingly simple. She made satchels of black peppercorns, simmered them in pot full of sliced onions and water. After an hour the house was perfumed throughout, sweet, spicy, savoury.
Among the many gifts she sent us back to school with was a bottle of rose water.
These moments fell through my mind, swirling from the sieve of memory into a pot on the stove. It starts with the stock.
Saffron, black peppercorns, star anise, hibiscus, a touch of rose water. And a splash of apple cider vinegar to make up for the lack of wine, rounding out the aromatics with acidity, giving them a ledge to leap from.
The medievals liked spices a lot. And mixing sweet and savoury.
Meanwhile, the arborio rice toasts in the wide saucepan she brought up for us at the beginning of the year. It has already lived many good days, bringing us ratatouilles, pasta sauces, syrups, pancakes, and now risotto.
Out comes the rice, lightly toasted; in go the minced onions, garlic, and olive oil. They begin to burble.
They get soft and fragrant.
Return the rice, and begin to add stock by the ladleful. Stir slowly and gently.
Slow simmer. The rice softens. Stock and stir. Salt; butter; taste.
Saffron risotto with roasted squash + seeds, herbs preserved in olive oil.
The house was full of friends and together we slurped spoons.
(for the McCurdys.)