If you know me, you know that I am fascinated by two countries, one of them being Italy. I don’t know if it is because as I teenager I became enamored with how Mario Batali described food as the epitome of culture in country that was broken up until the 19th century. Maybe I was charmed by the mystique of a place that seemed so large, diverse, and beautiful at the same time to a young islander like me during that first visit as a 12 year old person. At some point, this curiosity towards a far away country became a dream. One day I will live in this country, I will embrace its culture, speak their language, and share the air.
In high school I took two years of Italian, with the idea that if I got into college in the States I might get the opportunity to travel the Country for six consecutive months. When I actually got into the much-coveted Architecture program everything fell into place. At this point in my life I was dreaming in Italian.
My time in Rome would require another blog post, since it has been one of the most intensely beautiful moments of my life. Its been six ears this I lived in Rom, and having jut come back from a third trip to Italy, I can reassure you I am still in love with Italy. My Italian might be a bit rough around the edges, and I might not be able to devour bread as I used to, but I cannot seize to be inspired by this place.
The nine day long trip I just came back from was different from the other two in that it involved plenty mountain road drivin along the northern parts of the country I had not ye visited. We went all the way from the Alps, to Lake Como, to a little town called Fivizzano, Florence, and Milan: all very different, all sublime and breath taking. We travelled by boat, and by car, and enjoyed each unique landscape for what it had to offer. We ate well, even though I drank most of my calories (what can I say I love wine). I ate at least twenty variations of instalata mista (mixed salad), and several minestrone soups. I indulged once on dark chocolate and hazelnut gelato (Vivioli makes the best!), and got seduced into trying the most delicious risotto I have ever eaten in my life.
We were having lunch at a restaurant within an old vineyard in the depths of Tuscany. I was not expecting a pre fix dinner and immediately started sweating profusely. I was nervous. I did not want anybody to feel either insulted, or obligated to accommodate for me or my specific diet, specially when both cultural and language barriers where in the way. The server was nice enough to understand that I eat like a pigeon. They brought out yet another version of a mixed salad, just for me and, followed by a tomato risotto.
A delicate tomato broth covered each and every grain of Arborio, with an acidic earthy aroma of vine ripened and slowly cooked tomatoes. Chunks of Parmesan surprised every other bite. A delicious combination of earthy, fruity flavors that paired beautifully with a robust Barolo.
As soon as I got home I started flirting with the idea of making a slightly healthier variation of such decadence. The idea of quinoa risotto popped into my head, and after much research, I learned that you can’t cook quinoa the same way you cook Arborio. Instead I went for the soup technique. By making a slightly wetter quinoa you can achieve a similar consistency to risotto, without the guilt. The result: a crowd pleasing earthy concoction. The combination of spring onions, cooked and raw tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and quinoa is sublime. Each mouthful is satisfying and a celebration of summers best products. The best part of this recipe is that it is easier to make than risotto, and taste even better the next day. This one is for the books!
Tomato Quinoa Risotto
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4-5 spring onions ( or half a large yellow onion)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ¼ tbsp. cumin powder
- ½ cup quinoa
- 3 cups vegetable broth or water
- 2 cups canned tomatoes
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 cup white beans (optional)
- 2-3 inch rind of Parmegiano Reggiano
- ½ cup arugula
Place a large pot over high heat. Pour olive oil and place quartered spring onions into the pot. Add a generous pinch of salt and cumin powder. Cook over medium heat until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in quinoa and toast for 2 minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
Add the canned tomatoes, white beans, and if you have save the rind of Parmeggiano Reggiano, add that too. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes. When ready to serve, add arugula and fresh tomatoes. Pour about ¾ of a cup into each serving plate drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with ground black pepper, and shaved Parmegiano Reggiano. Devour!