This is what happened when I called my mother on Friday to tell her that I would be coming over for dinner on Saturday.
Hello? (I still haven't figured out why she answers her cell phone as if she were asking a question. She can tell that it's me from the caller ID.)
Oh! Hi! How are you?
I'm fine. So I'm thinking about coming home on Saturday but I have a huge test on Monday that I need to study for. So if I come over, it's just going to be for dinner. Like from 4-8. Otherwise, you won't see me until Thanksgiving.
Pregnant pause ensues.
Pause again, once more with feeling.
If you're sure that's what you want. She says solemnly. Gravely.
Mom. This isn't about what I want. It isn't even about you. Or dad. Or Dana. (It's not you, it's me? - probably not the right time.) It's just something that I have to do.
Sharp intake of breath.
I guess, if you're sure.
End of conversation.
Gotta love the Catholic guilt. Or is it the Italian mother guilt? Or probably just the mother guilt, for as my friend Alan likes to say - guilt has no denomination. It's universal.
Then I get a call from her on Saturday morning.
So what are you cooking for dinner?
Classic. Thankfully, I had a plan. Risotto.
It's generally the one thing we can agree upon. With risotto we can avoid the eternal argument over whole wheat v. white pasta. We can also get away from the organic v. non-organic meat fight. And then of course there's the pork/beef v. chicken war of the 21st century, since I am partial to the former while my sister will only eat the latter. Plus I think my dad really likes the idea of sitting in his kitchen and eating risotto, since it is something that to him seems so high-end and gourmet. The kind of thing you can only order in restaurants. (Like me with creme brulee. I guarantee I will become convinced that you rank up there with Daniel Boulud and Rick Bayless if you make me creme brulee.) Which is kind of amazing because risotto isn't actually that hard to make. It requires a lot of attention and stirring, sure. But it's pretty hard to mess up. Let's keep that tidbit of information to ourselves though. Once he learns how to make it, he will try to intervene and give me advice on how to cook it. As it is now, he basically keeps out of it since he thinks that my risotto-cooking abilities are a fine-tuned skill that he knows nothing about. I would like to keep it that way.
But then, and here is where things get tricky, the supermarket across the street from my apartment didn't have any arborio rice.
Now can you explain to me what kind of supermarket (and we are talking a big chain here. Not to mention any names but cough The Food Emporium cough) on the UPPER EAST SIDE wouldn't carry arborio rice?!?!?
Breathe, Joanne. Breathe.
Fast forward to Plan B. Orzotto. Similar to risotto. Same exact cooking technique. But made with orzo instead of rice. Brilliant.
And crisis averted.
I went over, we laughed, we talked, we ran the gamut of mini arguments:
Joanne, are you sure you shouldn't cook that entire two pound box of orzo. I really don't think that a pound and a half is going to be enough. (For five people. As a side dish. I had to restrain myself from not going off on a rant about portion distortion and how it has poisoned the minds of Americans everywhere.)
Followed by, from my mother, as she looked pointedly at me:
You know. I'd really like to be a young grandmother.
I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
But the important thing is that they ate it. All of it. And I even managed to sneak some spinach into their systems.
This one's a keeper.
Orzotto with Spinach
Serves 6, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Risotto
7 cups broth, lightly simmering
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped into small pieces
1 lb spinach, chopped
3 cups orzo (or arborio rice)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add the spinach, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a bowl. Leave as many of the onions as you can.
2. Add the orzo to the pan and saute for 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Add the stock one ladleful at a time, constantly stirring and only adding the next ladleful once the previous one is almost evaporated. Do this until the orzo is cooked. Then stir in the spinach, butter, and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I served this with some sauteed chicken sausage from the local Italian deli. And I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights, which is being hosted this week over at Pots and Plots.