BRESCIA, Italy — As a budding foodie, one of my goals for this exchange was to learn some Italian cooking. I consider myself an apt taster and savvy eater, but my knowledge in the kitchen doesn’t extend much past scrambled eggs and slicing vegetables.
What better place than Italy to broaden my resume of recipes? Now that school’s out and the days seem to last so much longer, I’m finally getting my chance.
This week, I got my first lesson from my host mom, Daniela. With her guidance, I made one of the simplest but tastiest Italian staples – cheesy risotto.
The whole time, we didn’t use any measurements. It was all just approximation and eyeballing it. We started with boiling water in one pot and melting butter and onion slices in the other.
Once butter was fully melted and the onions on the verge of turning brown, we added the rice – two handfuls for each person, plus a little extra just in case and because my hands are tiny.
Then began the stirring. The stirring lasted for 18 minutes – the exact amount of time required to cook the risotto – with pauses only when my hands were needed to add ingredients.
We first doused the rice with a few glogs of white wine, then we added ladles of nearly boiling water whenever it started to get too dry. We added small amounts of pepper and broth flavoring, as well.
At some point while I was stirring, my host sister Lucrezia came in and looked at me with a face that clearly indicated my stirring skills were lacking. I didn’t know you could be a bad stirrer.
There was a millisecond where I freaked out inside and thought, “Oh gosh, I’ve managed to mess up stirring. How do you mess up stirring? I was under the impression I was just inexperienced with cooking, but if I can mess up stirring that probably means I’m really, really BAD.”
It was OK, though. Lucrezia straightened out my stirring errors for me.
“You’ve got to do it with force, Chandler,” she told me, grabbing the wooden spoon from my hand and taking over for a moment. “You can’t be all delicate about it. Try like this.”
It is not enough to just be sure you’re keeping it from sticking to the bottoms and sides of the pot and to keep it moving. You’ve got to look fierce and break a sweat while you do it. You’ve got to use some muscle, show the food who’s boss.
Italian ferocity isn’t limited to strong convictions and personalities. It also extends to the preparation of even their simplest dishes.
The last step of the risotto preparation was the addition of the cheese, right when the 18 minutes was almost up. We used three different kinds to really round out the flavor.
The cheeses melted fast and made the risotto thick and creamy. We turned off the stove, and the first Italian meal I ever made was ready.
The Nonna came over to eat with us. When I took my first bite, I was very satisfied with how it had turned out. It was just as yummy as when Daniela or Lucrezia made it – but this time I’d made it myself.
With a smile, Lucrezia pronounced it “good,” and the Nonna responded that it was “not just good, but exquisite,” then she pinched my cheeks.
I’d say my first Italian cooking experience was a success!
Chandler West is a Rock Hill High School student who is spending her senior year in Italy. She writes about her adventures abroad each week in The Herald and heraldonline.com.