In a recent post, I mentioned that my darlin’ wife S and I have a pretty big collection of cookbooks. And while some books are rarely used, there are others that have become well-worn kitchen companions. We all have favourite recipes and favourite cookbooks that we turn to first when looking for something to make for friends, loved ones or even if we’re just cooking for ourselves. Over time, these books become worn out, their pages over-thumbed, occasionally dog-eared, and often speckled with sauces; their spines cracked and their jackets frayed and wrinkled. Books that we use the most will open to our favourite recipes when flipped open on a desk. If the recipe is one that S particularly likes, chances are that it will be annotated (in pencil) with her own notes and conversions. If the recipe is one that I gravitate to regularly, while I’ll keep the book open while cooking, chances are I’ll deviate from the specified amounts or instructions a fair bit.
While both S and I have common favourite foods, i.e. dishes we both love to eat, we enjoy cooking pretty different things. If we were to list the recipes–and the cookbooks they’re from–that we’ve come to love making the most, those lists would be completely different.
One of my all-time favourite cookbooks is The Harry’s Bar Cookbook. It was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. I picked it up when I was in university, after having been taken by some of my parents’ friends to dine at Harry Cipriani in New York. (Back then, this small but ultra-chic Fifth Avenue restaurant was Cipriani’s only outlet in the Big Apple; today, they have five branches.) After just one visit, I was hooked. I loved everything about the restaurant, its signature Bellini cocktail; its excellent and efficient service; its dignified air; and most of all its delicious, traditional but elegant cuisine. The Harry’s Bar Cookbook was the third cookbook I had ever purchased for myself. And over the years, it has remained one of my favourite and most trusted resources for great recipes.
One recipe in particular that I love to both make and eat is squid ink risotto with squid. To prepare this traditional Venetian dish, you have to first make a batch of squid cooked with squid ink. For this, I use Cipriani’s recipe, which is pretty much faultless. The resulting squid is tender, savory and truly delicious. You can eat this over some polenta but I prefer it mixed into risotto. The finished risotto is gorgeously dark and deliciously comforting. More importantly, it’s the kind of dish that you can make over and over again, for yourself or for friends, without ever tiring of it.
Squid Ink Risotto with Squid
serves 8-10 small portions
1 small onion, diced finely
300g arborio or carnaroli rice
1.25 litres chicken stock (preferably home-made), heated
1 batch of the squid cooked in squid ink
45g unsalted butter
20ml vermouth or dry white wine
110g grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
Squid cooked in Squid Ink
675g cleaned squid
100ml olive oil
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
400ml dry white wine
125g finely chopped fresh herbs (basil, parsely, oregano and thyme)
salt and pepper
3 sachets of squid ink (approximately 12g worth of ink)
For the squid (adapted from The Harry’s Bar Cookbook): Cut the cleaned squid into small pieces, roughly 2/3 cm each. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic, and cook until soft and golden but not browned. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to high and add the squid. Stir the squid, cooking it evenly for a few minutes. Then add the wine and herbs and bring the liquid to the boil. Turn down the heat. Add the ink from the sachets, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over low heat, partially covered, until the squid is soft and tender. This should take about 90 minutes. Stir occasionally.
For the risotto: Cut 20g of the butter into small cubes and keep chilled in the fridge. In a wide or deep pan, heat the rest of the butter over medium heat. When foaming, add the diced onion and cook until soft but not browned. Add the rice, stirring it for a minute or two until lightly toasted but also not colored. Then add the vermouth or dry white wine, stirring continuously. Turn the heat to low and then add one ladleful of the stock. Stir constantly. When the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock, then add the squid that you made earlier. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Then add another ladleful of stock. Continue to cook this way, adding stock whenever the liquid has been absorbed. When the rice is soft but al dente, and the liquid has been absorbed, turn off the heat. Then quickly beat/stir the chilled, cubed butter into the rice (preferably with a wooden spoon). Then beat/stir the grated parmesan into the risotto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.