As a neophyte in the food photography and styling world, I’ve learned that the sun is your best friend and your worst enemy. While I’m preparing to shoot, I’m begging the sun to please just cooperate. When the sun decides to rebel and hide behind the clouds for a few moments, I sit patiently and twiddle my thumbs until it comes out again. Other times, I visit the virtual mall to see what kind of sales are going on at Sur La Table.
Of course, sometimes the creative side of my brain decides to go idle on me, and I’m back to twiddling my thumbs, begging for a muse to visit me by the window where I stage my shots.
Chasing down natural light and a muse was my Sunday in a nutshell.
Saturday was even more eventful. When I learned that the Boston Ballet was doing Lady of the Camellias, I immediately bought tickets for the Saturday matinee. Beautiful and dreamy are the most appropriate adjectives to describe the performance – I loved every single second. The talented Erica Cornejo danced the part of Marguerite Gautier, and she was graceful, stunning, and just perfect.
Now that I’m a working girl, the weekends are reserved for doing all the things I can’t do during the week. Do you remember those college days when we didn’t have any exams or morning classes and could go out for a movie on a Wednesday evening? What a life that was. I was a resident advisor for two years in college, so I ate most of my meals at the dining hall, which saved me even more time. T’was a double-edged sword because I didn’t have many opportunities to cook.
The dining hall at my college was quite nice. The dishes were rarely bad, mostly decent, and sometimes awesome. This risotto dish was inspired by something I loved having at the dining hall. The dining hall’s nutritionists and chefs were very cognizant about making sure students had balanced diets, and this dish has it all.
I doctored up the traditional marinara sauce with mushrooms and Italian sausage (I know, I know, I always use Italian sausage, but I couldn’t bring myself to use anything else for this recipe). Because the marinara sauce has a lot going on, I kept the risotto simple, to offset it. The special ingredient in the risotto is Chardonnay, and like magic, the wine made it richer and more flavorful. All together, on a bed baby spinach, it is a lovely, well-balanced dish.
- 1 lb mild italian sausages, casing removed and rolled into balls about 1'' in diameter
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
- 24 oz traditional marinara sauce
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup Chardonnay white wine
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 8 oz baby spinach leaves
- 4 basil leaves, thinly sliced
- Heat 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage balls, and cook for about 5 minutes, until cooked through. When you first drop them into the saute pan, don't move them around until the bottoms have browned. Plate, and set aside.
- Leave the heat on medium, then add ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil into the same saute pan. Add in the diced onions and half the garlic (3 cloves minced), and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook for another 2 minutes, until the mushrooms soften. Stir in the pasta sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- In a dutch oven or medium pot, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes, until they turn slightly brown. Add the Arborio rice and stir to toast them for 2 minutes. Stirring often, add the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Slowly stir in 1 cup of chicken broth, then stir frequently until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat, one cup at a time, with the remaining chicken broth (about 30 minutes). Stir in the parmesan cheese, then salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
- Plate a handful of baby spinach. Top with a serving of risotto, followed by the sauce. Garnish with the fresh basil, then serve.