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
- 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
- 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.