WELLNESS MERCANTILE: the warmth of sharing meals

Through my own work as a Reiki Master, Holistic Health Coach and Intuitive Brand Strategist, I have met some incredible and inspiring women in wellness along the way. I wanted to create a platform that celebrates this movement towards a collective consciousness. Through community and connection, The Wellness Mercantile is exploring ways to support each other.
— Erica Joy Dunn, founder of The Wellness Mercantile

The Warmth of Sharing Meals

words + recipe by Linda Sarrisimages by Katie June Burton @katiefresca

I started working in the culinary world when I turned 25. Leaving an office job and transitioning into something that really made me happy was a big leap. Two things that I am discovering in my growth as an entrepreneur are that you need to take care of yourself and you need to foster relationships that strengthen you. Freelancers get caught up in the hustle (especially in New York City) oh too often. We have to hunt, search, and scrap for jobs. Every day is different but that is what makes it terrifyingly exciting. 

Taking care of yourself could mean a balance of eating well, exercising, positivity and self love. Being my own best cheerleader, even when I think I'm bullshitting it, just keeps me moving forward. Surrounding yourself with strong people who lift you up is the second part; whether it's a mentor, a lover, a partner, a client or a friend -- we can't do it on our own. After cooking school, I was lucky to receive a scholarship that sent me to Sicily and into the hands of my mentor, Fabrizia. But it's no longer luck that keeps the adventure alive, it's the choices I'm making that allow me to build relationships, continue learning and growing. 

While traveling in Sicily this fall, I had an opportunity to work the olive harvest in a town called Sambuca di Sicilia. What comforted my heart while being away from home was of course the satisfaction of eating local and seasonally but also the combination of warm Sicilian sun and even warmer people. Whether I was sitting on the ground in the shade of an olive tree splitting a panino and some pomegranates with a farmer or cooking together with friends sharing the meal with their family of perfect little loud Italian children in the comfort of their homes, eating together is a ritual that I love more than any other. 

Most of the time, I'm the one in the kitchen but sharing meals or cooking together is the best way to comfort yourself, thank friends, cheer them up or celebrate! I usually save it for date number three with new guys. Risotto is something I make when I need to wash away the winter blues. I can whip it up with items from the pantry and it's always a crowd pleaser. The recipe is simple but requires focus. You need to dedicate your time and cannot be distracted with other things. In this vegetarian recipe, I use broccoli rabe paired with a new harvest Italian extra virgin olive oil and some stinky strong cheese on top. I like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to brighten it up. The balance of bitter greens with high-quality oil and salty cheese are guaranteed to warm your belly. 

Linda Sarris is a private chef who splits her time between Brooklyn and Italy. She finds inspiration from her badass female CEO clients and cooking mentors abroad. Linda travels often for research and work-study programs including an upcoming Sicilian food/wine tour with guests from May 6-12. Follow her culinary storytelling through instagram @thecheekychef and lindasarris.com.

RECIPE: Broccoli Rabe Risotto

serves 3

  • 1c. arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 4T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2c. white wine
  • 3c. vegetable stock
  • 2 bunches of broccoli rabe, 6c. of trimmed sprigs
  • 3T unsalted butter
  • 1/2c. parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
  • sea salt and flakey finishing salt
  • black pepper
  • lemon
  • funky cheese like pecorino, taleggio or an earthy castelrosso to finish the dish

Trim tough stems from the broccoli rabe and remove large outer leaves. Add the florets to a pot of heavily salted boiling water, cooking until bright green and softened. Blanch in ice water to stop the cooking, drain and set aside. In a wide flat-bottomed pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil on medium. Add the onion, cooking until softened and translucent. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable stock in a separate pot and grab a ladle. Add all of the rice to your risotto pan and stir to coat with the oil and onions. Toast for a few minutes then add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Sti continuously with a wooden spoon so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom, allow the wine to absorb a little bit into rice and burn off the rest.

Start adding 1 ladle of broth at a time until fully absorbed. Lower the heat to just simmering and always keep stirring. The whole process should take about 20 minutes. Cook to your desired doneness; the rice should stick to your teeth (al dente) but not feel too crunchy. Stir in the broccoli rabe for a few minutes just before the rice finishes cooking. Turn off the heat and finish with butter and grated cheese for the "mantecatura" step. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. The butter and cheese will melt and make the risotto creamy. Finish with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, flakey sea salt and a few bits of funky cheese. 

Cheeky's Risotto Notes:

  • Measure 1 espresso cup of dry risotto rice per person. It's the perfect amount.
  • Chop your onions smaller than the size of the rice.
  • Wine, olive oil and salt are very important. Don't skimp on quality.
  • Serve right away; both risotto and pasta waits for nobody.

valentine's cooking lesson with GRANA PADANO

I've been teaching classes at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg for the last 10 months. Last night we hosted a special hands-on italian cooking lesson sponsored by GRANA PADANO cheese. Here is my recipe for a valentine's themed beet risotto. Buon Apetito e Buon Amore!

Beetroot Risotto with Grana Padano Frico  (serves 8)
3 c. rice for risotto - either carnaroli or arborio (80g per person)
2 large white onions, small dice
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. white wine
7 c. vegetable or chicken stock, hot
4 large red beets, scrubbed clean
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 c. Grana Padano cheese, grated
sea salt
black pepper
1 candy-cane or golden yellow beet, raw but scrubbed clean

Roasting beets
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Rub the beets with olive oil then wrap up in packets of aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes-1 hour depending on their size until a knife can easily pierce through. Open packets to let steam out. While wearing plastic gloves, rub the skins off with paper towels.  

Grana Padano Frico (makes approximately 20 pieces)
1/2 lb. Grana Padano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of fresh thyme, washed and picked

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet tray with a piece of parchment paper then grate cheese into small piles without touching each other about 2 inches wide. Grind black pepper and sprinkle a little bit of fresh thyme leaves over each pile. Bake at 375 for 7 minutes until cheese melts and spreads out to form thin cheese chips. Remove the oven and cool to room temperature. Carefully remove frico from the tray without breaking and use as a garnish. Reserve the rest of the picked thyme for the risotto.

Beetroot Risotto
In a dutch oven or wide skillet, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sweat until softened and translucent. Stiring continuously with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable stock in a separate pot equipped with a ladle. Bring stock to a boil then turn it off. Add all of the rice to your risotto pan and stir to coat with the oil and onions. Toast for a few minutes then add the white wine and deglaze the pan. Scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan and allow the wine to absorb into rice and burn off.

Lower the heat to just simmering. Next, we start adding a little bit of broth at a time. Add 1 ladle of broth to the rice and stir continuously until the liquid is absorbed. It's important to keep stirring and not be distracted with other things. As the rice soaks up the liquid, add another ladle and repeat as needed. The whole process should take about 20 minutes but you can check by tasting a grain of rice every now and again. Add the chopped red beets to the risotto about half-way through and continue cooking the rice. The rice should stick to your teeth (al dente) but not feel hard. It will be tender as the risotto becomes creamy.

When you reach the desired doneness of the rice, turn off the heat and finish with butter and grated cheese for the "mantecatura" step. Stir in the butter cubes and make sure they melt all the way through. Finish with grated cheese and stir to combine into a nice creamy risotto. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve immediately and garnish with paper-thin sliced raw candy-cane or golden beet, the Grana Padano frico and fresh thyme.