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HOME COOK : Teaching Old Recipes New Tricks

August 20, 1992|MARION CUNNINGHAM

Risotto, a classic dish from Italy's Lombard region, is a perfect supper on a warm summer evening. It's light, comforting and, with a small spicy salad and some cold fruit, an appealing meal during weary weather. But there's a problem: No sane person wants to stand over a hot stove on a hot night stirring rice for half an hour.

Classic risotto begins with Italian short-grain rice that is sauteed in butter and olive oil. Then a little broth is added, stirred constantly until it is absorbed and some more broth added. You repeat this process, slowly, until the rice is plump. The dish is such a favorite in Italy that food historian Waverly Root offers 37 recipes for risotto in "The Food of Italy."

Here's one that's not in the book. It comes from Jim Nassikas, creator and for many years director of the Stanford Court Hotel. When he was in hotel school in Switzerland, he learned to make a version that requires scarcely any stirring or attention. It turns out creamy with a chewy center every time.

Two things are important when making risotto. You must use a short-grain rice (the Italian import arborio is easy to find in Italian markets and some supermarkets). And the risotto must travel quickly from stove to table to be eaten at its best.

I find this Risotto alla Parmigiana utterly satisfying; I even like it cold. Risotto aficionados might be skeptical, but try it once and you'll be converted. I feel the same way about the Spicy Herb Salad. Mixing whole fresh basil, mint and oregano leaves with lettuce sounds odd, but the melange of herbs is surprisingly right with the rich risotto.

The dessert for this meal relies on another cooking trick: It's the old-fashioned system for having fresh cookies ready to eat in only 10 minutes. Called "ice box cookies" in the early years, the recipe depends on having on hand chilled dough waiting to be sliced and baked. This "bake and eat" method assures crispness, which is difficult to achieve even in airtight containers. The recipe below produces 400 cookies, which is a lot, but the dough keeps almost indefinitely.

The dough is mixed, divided into parts and rolled into four long logs, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored either in the freezer or refrigerator. Bake up a batch, serve the cookies with cold sliced peaches, and you end up with the perfect finale for a wonderful summer supper.

I use a pot that has 3 - quart capacity and measures 3 1/2 inches high and 8 inches across. If the handle of your pot is not oven-proof, wrap it in several layers of foil.

RISOTTO ALLA PARMIGIANA

2 cups water

2 cups beef or chicken broth (plus extra 1/2 cup in case rice becomes dry too quickly)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 cups Arborio rice (short-grain Italian rice)

Salt, pepper

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring water and broth to boil in separate saucepan.

Heat butter and olive oil in 3-quart pot (8 inches wide, 3 1/2 inches deep) over medium heat. Add onion and saute until onion is tender but not browned. Add rice and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of boiling broth and 1 cup of boiling water. Place pot, uncovered, in 350-degree oven and bake 15 minutes.

Remove pot from oven and stir rice. Add remaining cup of water and cup of broth, stir and return pot to oven. Bake 15 minutes more. Remove risotto from oven, stir, and if too dry, add another 1/4 or 1/2 cup of broth. Let cook in oven another 5 minutes, remove from oven, stir in cheese and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

581 calories; 864 mg sodium; 30 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 83 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 0.39 gram fiber.

SPICY HERB SALAD

5 cups tender romaine leaves, chopped into bite-size pieces

1 cup loosely packed green or red fresh basil leaves

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves

1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

Salt

Vinaigrette

Just before serving, combine romaine, basil, mint, oregano and green onions in large bowl. Lightly salt and toss to mix well.

Drizzle half of Vinaigrette over salad and gently toss with hands to mix well. Add more Vinaigrette if needed, but dress lightly. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

138 calories; 317 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.54 gram fiber.

Vinaigrette

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Combine olive oil, wine vinegar, water, salt and mustard in jar with lid. Shake vigorously until completely blended.

PAPER-THIN GINGER COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup light-brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons salt

2 3/4 cups flour

1 egg

1 cup finely chopped candied ginger, packed

Combine butter, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, salt and flour in large mixing bowl. Beat briskly until somewhat blended and add egg. Mix well again and add ginger, mixing well. Shape dough into 4 equal logs about 1 1/2 inches round. Wrap each log in plastic wrap or wax paper. Chill or freeze until needed.

Slice dough very thin and place logs close together without touching on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 4 to 6 minutes or until lightly golden around edges. Let cool on baking sheet about 5 minutes and serve. Makes about 400 very thin, 1 1/2-inch round cookies.

Each cookie contains about:

12 calories; 18 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 0 fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 fiber.

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