After all the lavish parties have been visited and gourmet meals and rich feasts tasted, savored and enjoyed there comes a time when every foodie turns to the simple, no-nonsense and undressed-up charms of comfort food. It's like stepping out of those expensive designer high-heels and into the undemanding consolation of flip-flops.
While Wikipedia describes comfort food as:
"typically inexpensive, uncomplicated, and easy to prepare. Many people turn to comfort food for familiarity, emotional security, or special reward,"
I like to describe it as food that hugs you from the inside. In my opinion that is exactly what comfort food does. It reaches out to you, cutting through bad weather, bad moods, weariness or irritation and engulfs you in a soothing embrace, almost as if it were saying "There, there!" Suddenly, whatever you may be feeling or whatever your current situation is - tired traveler, overstretched homemaker, or troubled teenager - everything around you blurs out and vanishes. The first mouthfuls takes you straight back to your comfort zone - the familiar, the good and the soul-nourishing - to the time when all was well.
By the way, comfort foods should not be mistaken with favorite foods. Favorite foods are normally fancier and more opulent. These kind of foods are often associated with gorgeous locations or finer restaurants - like that Lobster Thermidor on the beach bar on St. Barth. To enjoy favorite foods people dress up, go to a party or visit their favorite restaurant.
In comparison, comfort food is enjoyed with no frills. It's not fussy, expensive or difficult to eat. I enjoy my comfort foods most in a simple inexpensive bowl, me wearing my "feel-good" pants and often sitting on the sofa. For me, comfort food rarely draws an exclamation, only an appreciative and eloquent silence of pure soothing comfort.
More often then not, my comfort food includes rice. I love the velvety caress of the warm, sticky, snowy-white mould of risotto, steaming in my favorite bowl. Even preparing this creamy dish comforts me, getting me into a state of meditation while stirring and pouring. Making the perfect risotto is not as difficult as people say it is. It takes 15-20 minutes to make a basic risotto - just 15-20 minutes to enter your comfort zone. This risotto is actually my favorite. I use fresh and crispy rucola leaves sprinkled with bresaola to give a perfect texture and taste.
Call it roquette, rocket, arugula or arugula, one thing I have to recommend is to give these petite greens a try. Rucola is an aromatic, peppery salad green and is very popular in Italian cuisine. It grows wild in Asia and all over the entire Mediterranean.
Rucola leaves are best gathered when they are young and they can be tossed into salads or soups, pastas or poultry, I love making a pesto out of them. Rucola is a rich source of iron as well as vitamins A and C, with a 1/2 cup serving having only two calories.Storing and Selecting
Buy rucola with the roots still attached. It will lose its zest and flavor fast enough with them on - and even faster with them off. Look for bright, tender, fresh-looking leaves with no signs of yellowing or dark spots. They should not be at all limp.
Use rucola as soon as possible, as the flavor and texture will fade very fast. If you need to keep it a day or two, do not wash it or remove the roots. Sprinkle with a little water, wrap in paper towels or a clean cloth towel, put in a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Remove the roots and wash only when you are ready to use it. Rucola tends to be very sandy, so washing it well is very important
Rucola can be substituted with water cress for a similar peppery flavor. You can also use fresh baby spinach, however the flavor will not be the same. Dandelion greens also have a tart flavor but they are a bit more bitter.
Eat Fresh Update
The lovely Marta of An Italian in the US, who lives in California has a fresh load of squash, cabbage, cauliflower, apples and so much more in her weekly fresh produce shopping bag. Check out her gorgeous Eat Fresh bag!
A few of you mentioned they were having trouble sending me their Eat Fresh entries as the mails were bouncing back. Folks ... my mistake! Seemed like I misspelled my own email address. Sorry! Please send your emails to email@example.com. Your deadline is March 31st.
For details to this event please refer to the Eat Fresh page.
To check out all the lovely entries check out our Eat Fresh Winter list.
Printable version of recipe here.
Basic risotto - Risotto Bianco
1 l vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion - finely chopped
2 garlic cloves - finely chopped
400g Risotto rice - the best and my preference here would be the Arboria type
2 wine glasses full of dry white wine - if cooking for kids substitute this with more stock
Salt and fresh cracked pepper
70 g butter
120g parmesan - grated
125 g Rucola leaves - roughly chopped
100 g Bresaola - roughly chopped
1/2 bunch of Thyme - roughly chopped
1 Bay leaf
Bring the stock to a boil. In another pot heat the butter and olive oil together and add the chopped onion and garlic. On a low heat sauté very gently for 15 minutes until the flavors have combined and caramelized. Be careful not to allow them to take on color.
In the Italian kitchen this is called soffritto. Add the rice and raise the temperature.
Keep stirring the rice while in cooks and takes on a glassy color - approx. 1 minute. At this point add the wine (or stock) and allow the rice to take on the wonderful aroma.
Once this has evaporated and the rice begins to get dry, add thyme and bay leaves. Pour a ladle full of the stock. Stir well and add a touch of salt. Reduce the temperature so that the mixture bubbles slightly. Now, keep adding ladle full of stock, allow the rice to soak this up and stirring every now and then. When the rice has soaked the liquid add another ladle full. By "massaging" the rice this way you release the creamy starch from the rice giving the dish a fantastic consistency. This whole process takes approx. 15-20 minutes. The rice grains should be soft but still have a slight crunch to them. Now add a bit of salt and pepper, but be careful as the stock is normally salty enough - so please taste before!
Take the pot off the heat and add the butter, bresaola, rucola and parmesan cheese. Mix well and cover. Allow the rice to take on all the flavors - 2 minutes. This is the moment of truth - as giving the risotto this time allows it to unfold it's perfect creamy-moist consistency.
Vegetarian Tip: leave the bresaola out. Optionally you can add a few dried porchini mushrooms for wonderful aroma.
A spoonful of this risotto makes me sigh out loud. Pure comfort right down to it's last creamy rice grain. Soeren and Tom cannot get enough of this lovely flavored risotto. By adding the rucola leaves right at the end, the wonderful peppery flavor is preserved, as is the crunch.
If you want more comfort foods, check back here over the weekend when I roundup the 80+ comfort food entries!
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