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Thursday, February 23, 2012

risotto and roast cauliflower

I used to be an English teacher. I taught high school, and within the high school I was happiest teaching seniors. Senior year of high school is a magical time. Suddenly, the kids are almost free. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They know that soon... soon... they will be done with assignments in classes they never wanted to take in the first place. Soon they will be done with curfews and dress codes and living by their parents' rules. They will be off to their "real lives," and moving out and trying on college or jobs or roommates or rental agreements. They are young enough to be completely idealistic, ready to end world hunger or animal abuse or the sex trade. They are young enough that they aren't quite adults, and they are young enough to still need adults to guide them, advise them, cheer for them, and console them. And yet, they are finally old enough to admit it. Most of the time, they know when and where to swallow their pride. They know when to stand up and fight, too. They are some of the most loyal people you might ever meet. They will do anything for a friend, but won't be walked on. They They are old enough to know better, to understand the rules, and how to play the game.

But still, they are kids. And like the seventeen previous years, they aren't always on their best behavior. They often make bad choices, give in to laziness, wallow in cattiness. They have a sense of being done with being controlled and ruled, and sometimes they become belligerent or defiant. They also have learned, quite well, that often times the consequence is well worth the fun of the transgression.

All of this is to say that by the time I had English students in their 12th year of taking English classes, I had kids who knew how to handle English class. They knew what grade they wanted (maybe just to pass and graduate, maybe to get into Harvard or MIT). They knew exactly how much work it would take to get where they wanted to be. Some felt fine skipping homework because they knew it would balance out come exam time, and the "C" would be secure. Some begged for extra credit... to raise their "A" to ... I don't know... a better "A"? A more secure "A"?

And no matter what, with plenty of regularity, there was an assignment and a kid who just didn't match up. Even the top achievers found an essay or book or poem they just couldn't care about. But that is where the comedy comes in for the teacher. Watch a gifted writer, a sponge of a reader, a deep-thinking, idealistic 18-year-old, produce 3 pages of writing about a book he would rather ignore (or perhaps, a book he did ignore). It makes for some highly amusing reading.

"The novel's imagery is developed through a series of descriptions."

"The juxtaposition of the light and dark in the first stanza is quite noteworthy."
(Oh, do the smart ones love the word juxtaposition.)

"The characterization of the antagonist shows him to be vile."

And one of my favorites:
"The main character was very very very very very very very heroic."

As you can see, those smarter-than-their teacher, brilliant high school almost-grads can find an amazing balance between very sophisticated vocabulary and lack of actual thought, and come up with three pages (or one, or seven), about anything. And equally importantly, about nothing.

But. But maybe I didn't always give them enough credit. Maybe they wanted to do better, but they had a biology test and a history report due the same day as my essay. Maybe they needed to work harder on their science grade or make up for lost time in Spanish class. And maybe the soccer coach called an extra practice the night before, or maybe they got off work late. Or maybe they were just plain tired.

Because here I sit, wanting to tell you about the risotto I made last night to go with yet more of the roast vegetables from earlier this week. It was fabulous. Such simple ingredients, such an amazing treatment. It was rich and creamy and flavorful, and all of the other adjectives I have used one.million.times. (In three days it will be a year since my first post, and I am running out of ways to describe food). I am not really sure how to explain that I found this risotto and cauliflower to be an all-around perfect meal, without saying...

It was very very very very very very very delicious.

It is a simple risotto, cooked the old-fashioned way of stirring and stirring and adding liquids slowly, and stirring, and then ending with the addition of a great handful of parmesan cheese. And then that was topped with the pre-roasted cauliflower that I had stored in the fridge.

Just for a minute, though, can I talk about the cauliflower? This was a Romansco cauliflower. Have you ever seen one? It is wild! It looks like the salt crystals that you can grow from a kit on a little piece of cardboard. It also looks like a neon-green forested mountainside. At the same time, it looks like a piece of tropical coral. It is simply awe-inspiring. I had to do a little photo shoot with my cauliflower before I could cut it into bits and turn this bright, hobby, reaching, leggy being into something so banal as ... dinner.

okay, back to our recipe. The risotto.

First, chop half an onion and cook it in some butter until it is soft. Add a half cup of dry white wine and let that cook down by half. Add a cup of rice, and a big pour of vegetable or chicken stock. Keep stirring the rice and liquids, for about 25 minutes. Any time you see that your spoon leaves a trail that isn't immediately filled with starchy, rice-y broth-y liquid, add more stock. You want it to keep wet. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente. All in all, I used just about 3 cups of chicken stock. Just before it is done, add a big handful of grated parmesan and a half-handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Then, in individual servings, make a little volcano of risotto and top it with the pre-roasted, re-warmed vegetables. I used the cauliflower, but I think broccoli would do very well, as would the beets.