Writers Who Cook: Self-Isolation Risotto with Maile Meloy
In uncertain times, it can be comforting to honor the rituals that have nourished and grounded us over the years. And with so many people cooking at home these days, we thought we’d ask some of the writers in our communities to share favorite recipes and the stories behind them. We hope these recipes provide you with some inspiration, comfort, and company in your own home kitchen. If you’re a writer who cooks and would like to be featured in our series, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s recipe comes from Maile Meloy, who is the author of several books, including, most recently, the novel Do Not Become Alarmed.
A few weeks ago, a group of river rafters came off a 25-day trip in the Grand Canyon, where they’d had no news or cell reception, to news of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve done that river trip, and you take one cooler full of fresh food and produce for the first week, then a cooler full of frozen food in dry ice, duct-taped closed, for the second week. The third week, you eat dried and canned things—rice and beans, pasta with sauce from a jar.
In our attempt to stay home and not contract or spread the virus, we’ve done something like that. We cleaned out the freezer to make room for frozen food—taking out a surprising number of gel-pack therapy wraps and frosted pints of old ice cream. We moved shelf-stable food into the garage. And now we’re going through the fresh food, to eat before it goes bad. It would feel really dumb, at the moment, to let fresh food go bad.
My boss at my first real job taught me how to make risotto. She said it was easy and forgiving; it’s all about stirring. Last night, I had fennel and cherry tomatoes to use up. But you can make risotto entirely with things that keep—a little white wine, a shallot or onion, parmesan, olive oil, chicken or vegetable stock, short-grained rice, salt, and pepper.
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 shallot or onion
Fennel, cherry tomatoes, or whatever you have
Butter or olive oil
1 1/2 cups of dry arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup of parmesan
1. Heat 4 cups of stock in a pot until it simmers, then leave it on low heat.
2. Chop up your onion or shallot, plus your fennel and cherry tomatoes or whatever you have.
3. Cook the onion or shallot in butter or olive oil, in a heavy pan over medium heat, until they get a little translucent.
4. Add a cup and a half of dry arborio rice to the pan and toast it a little, coating the grains in the oil or butter. Don’t let it get brown.
5. Add a half-cup of white wine. Stir and let the rice soak it up. This is when I added the fennel.
6. Start ladling in the stock, a half-cup at a time. Once the rice has absorbed each ladle-full, add another. It takes 20–30 minutes for the rice to absorb all the broth.
7. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, and chopped parsley if you have it. (I didn’t.) Add a little more butter—that’s probably not what’s going to kill you. Add salt and pepper.
8. Grate 1/4 cup of parmesan (or more). Stir the cheese in, and then grate more on top when you serve it.
9. Grate some lemon zest on top. I keep a lemon in the freezer; you can grate the whole thing.
10. Eat, being grateful you have food and health. Then, if you can, go donate some money—maybe to your local food bank, or to Binc, the fund for booksellers in need—and call someone you love.
Maile Meloy is the author of three novels, two story collections, and a middle-grade trilogy. Her fiction has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories, and on Selected Shorts and This American Life. She has received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.