While the original intent behind interviewing my friends for the blog was to highlight their endeavors, I am finding that writing about them reminds me of why our lives converged and how important it is that I keep them near. As we grow older and pursue various relationships and careers, we don’t get to spend as much time together as we’d like, and this process has allowed me to reconnect with some amazing people.
With that said, my next interview was with my best friend, Kate Hayes. ‘Literally’ is so overused by now… but I have LITERALLY known Kate since she was born and have been through many phases of life with her. Something that she has always done for me, whether I am celebrating or I am deeply saddened, is feed me.
I popped by her Sutton Place apartment last week to have her teach me one of her original recipes. She’s actually never written it down before, so we had fun trying to put together measurements. The recipe in full appears at the end of this post.
We stand in her kitchen and she turns on the heat of her gas stove. She flips the heat to about medium and starts warming up two skillets and measuring out Arborio rice, what you use to make risotto.
“I’m making you my ‘Risotto Two Ways’. One is Pea and Prosciutto and one is Pesto.”
I ask her what she loves about risotto so much.
“It’s my number one comfort food,” she says.
If you don’t know, risotto is a creamy, often times wine-soaked, rice dish from Italy. It can be made in a multitude of ways, which is why when I met up with Kate, she focused on her two personal favorites. I ask her if it’s a comfort food because she ate it a lot as a kid or if she thought it was because of the nature of the dish.
“It’s the nature of the dish. I didn’t really grow up eating it. I did eat a lot of regular pastas like spaghetti and meatballs, penne and sausage, and lasagna.”
She started experimenting with risotto on her own about a year ago. She’s worked on perfecting her recipe ever since.
She starts sauteing the rice in frying pans. Since we’re making two kinds, she has two pans out. She warns that a lot of people undercook their rice at this stage and makes sure to get ours nice and brown before adding in the white wine, the first of many doses. The pans start to boil and she brings them down to a simmer.
“My great-grandmother was from Florence and she taught me how to cook in her kitchen,” she continues, “and from there I started cooking with my grandparents and parents.”
She remembers that pasta was the first thing she ever made on her own in the kitchen. I ask her what she thinks of the carb-cutting craze that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
“It’s crazy! Carbs are the spice of life,” she says. “Carbs are life. It’s scientifically proven that it’s the best way to convert energy. As is fat.” She laughs as she points down to her hand ladeling in some butter into our mixture.
“It’s all about balance.”
The wine is absorbing nicely so she heads into pouring in some chicken broth. She also pours me a glass of the wine saying, “The key to making this is drinking wine while you do it.”
I happily take the glass and she explains to me her other favorite risotto dish to make, “Drunken Risotto.” She tells me it’s about 80% wine and 20% chicken broth. Most recipes are the opposite but she tells me that it has no butter or cheese in it so, “It’s practically vegan.”
I laugh and sip my wine. We’re both gluten-free so I ask her if she found her way to risotto because she couldn’t eat pasta anymore.
“That’s pretty much it. Back when I found out I couldn’t have gluten, the options were pretty terrible. So risotto is what I would order in Italian restaurants.”
Her favorite restaurant risotto? “Basil Zucchini Risotto at Cafe Boulud. It’s perfection.”
By this time we have been standing over the hot stove for 15 minutes. Adding liquid as we go. This is the technique to making risotto. Little amounts of liquid over an extended period of time. It is not a Set-It-And-Forget-It meal. You have to stand over the stove constantly stirring and adding liquid. It’s a bit of a commitment but she tells me that, “Once I want it, I commit to it. It’s worth it.”
She also finds it relaxing because, “I have to concentrate on risotto, so it gets me out of my head.”
The Arborio rice she’s using does suggest boiling the rice for 30 minutes. She shudders and cringes when I ask her if she’d ever resort to that. I probably wouldn’t either. It sort of sounds like flavorless gruel.
We hang out in her kitchen like this, talking about cooking and living while she sprinkles Himalayan Salt and Truffle Oil in and we keep adding the liquid, to the dish and our glasses.
As we finish up and the dish truly becomes “Two Ways”, prosciutto and peas into one and pesto into the other, I ask her for advice for anyone who wants to start cooking but doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing.
“Pick a night you want to try it and clear your schedule.”
I have to agree. I create the worst tasting food when I’m rushed.
She continues, “And use a cookbook for inspiration but don’t stress about the recipe. It’s about individual taste and what you like the most.”
It’s funny because she’s said the same thing to me countless times over the years from recipes to relationships, “Do and eat what you like the most.”