When it came time to celebrate Shelley’s birthday last week, there was no question in my mind what I had to make: she’s been talking to me about strawberry risotto for so long that it seems like it’s always been a fixture in our shared food lexicon. It’s not exactly the most common dish, though, so my previous attempts to make it had been foiled by the lack of a recipe. And also a healthy fear of the unknown. I just couldn’t imagine what on Earth this thing was supposed to taste like.
Strawberry risotto has a very strong memory of place for Shelley: One of Florence, Italy. While I could not for the life of me imagine what strawberry risotto was supposed to taste like until I tasted it, I certainly can identify with Shelley’s love of all things Firenze: the greenish-golden hue of the air…its ancient, yet approachable, nature…a timeless city of unquantifiable beauty. She had the risotto in question while there on an art history trip in college. It stayed with her since that time.
To back up a sec, I absolutely adore risotto. Aside from the babysitting aspect of its preparation, it’s super simple, and of course, risotto is the ultimate versatile meal or side. However, it’s been years since anyone in my house other than me would eat the stuff. Mr. Ex does not like risotto, and neither do my sons.
As an aside, Shelley’s boys do not care for risotto either. Y’all…is this some kind of y-chromosome thing? This is a mystery to me. During swim season, I like to make fauxsotto with orzo pasta, and lots of butter and lemon and parm. Sometimes if I have it around, I add a touch of cream, and whatever herb I have handy. The swimmers like this, and it’s really JUST LIKE RISOTTO (I use a little leftover pasta water to get the consistency right)…but they will not eat risotto. Oh well. More for us.
Since it was just going to be Shelley, Mom and me for this birthday meal, I decided to build the evening around risotto…a veritable RiceAPalooza! I made arancini for starters, and Mom chimed in with her much-beloved stuffed mushrooms, then I did my favorite lemon risotto for first course. We had the strawberry risotto as a side to my default roasted chicken thighs with root veggies for main.
I cribbed the strawberry risotto from Marian Burros’ recipe at New York Times Cooking – which Shelley identified as the closest to the original. I think I did a pretty good job, despite having bungled the cooking instructions a bit. But I did, at last, completely understand the “point” of the dish…it’s delicious and winey, but fruitier than winey. While I served it with chicken, because that’s my default setting for guests, it would be delicious with a nice rare filet or ribeye. I’d love to make it again in the spring here, when our strawberries are at their peak.
For Shelley’s birthday treat, she asked for tiramisu, but said the one thing she doesn’t really love about this, her favorite dessert, is the strong coffee taste that gives the dessert the kick in its eponymous “pick me up.” I’ve been toying with the idea of a tea-flavored version of this dessert for a while, so in Shelley’s honor, I decided to do an all-Southern Tearamisu featuring Charleston Breakfast Tea from Charleston Tea Plantation and Lewis Redmond Hand Mash Bourbon from Dark Corner Distillery. And this…if I do say so myself…was delicious! Try this one, for sure. Next peach season, I’ll be making this again and adding some peaches into the custard layers. Mmmmmm….