For the above picture I slopped risotto onto a plate. The picture looks appealing, or so my modest visual aesthetic tells me. If I were to analyze the picture, I would tell you the cropped risotto–the right third left off the frame–as well as the plate, with strips of white and alternating colors curling behind the rice, make the shot a good one. But I will leave these thoughts to the professionals.
Food stylists and food photographers professionally–that is, for a profession, for a living–make food look good in pictures. Often food stylists work with tweezers on a single dish for hours. In extreme cases, four or five hours. What does this mean? It means that some food takes longer to style than it does to cook. It means that, while a food stylist is arranging chives at a 35 degree angle, hungry people in Ghana are eating clay. The plate then passes to the photographer. He or she snaps, using four grades of artificial light, 300 pictures and keeps two.
The above risotto took me thirty minutes to cook and two minutes to photograph. The reason I photograph food in the first place is to trick you into reading my writing. I can’t imagine that, before sitting down to a lunch of asparagus risotto, an Italian or anyone would sculpt the slop, take 400 pictures, and then eat the now-cold rice. Better to photograph the meal as is, to show what the food actually looks like, to ignore the patch of sunlight that circles through your kitchen from 1 to 5pm and makes food glow, and to focus on the eating.
3 cups vegetable stock
¾ lb asparagus
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1¼ cup Arborio rice
¼ tsp salt
½ cup white wine
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1) Put the veggie stock in a pot over high heat. While the stock creeps to a boil, half each asparagus spear. Prepare an ice bath with salted water in a large bowl. Plunge asparagus into boiling stock. After two minutes, remove spears with a slotted spoon and submerge them in the ice bath. Switch the heat to low and cover the stock. Let the asparagus and yourself chill for a few minutes. Drain the asparagus and pat the spears semi-dry.
2) Cut the spears’ top halves into ½-inch pieces. Set aside. For this step, it is essential that you eat as many of the asparagus pieces as you want. Take the spears’ bottom halves and cut them into ½-inch pieces. Put pieces from the bottom halves into a food processor with one tbsp olive oil. Purée and set aside.
3) Put butter, onion, and remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Stirring often with a wooden spoon, let onion cook for five minutes, until the pieces turn amber. Add the Arborio rice. Stirring constantly, cook the rice for some three or four minutes, until the grains become translucent.
5) Are you still stirring? I hope so. Don’t stop. Add the salt and a shy grinding of pepper. Pour in the wine, continue to stir, and put your nose high above the pot. How good is the smell of wine cooking? Often I will walk my dog hours after dinner. By the time I return to my apartment, the wind coming in off the river has long erased the wine-smell from my mind. The lingering musk greets me as I open the door and toss Shadow a treat (not risotto). It says, “Someone has cooked with wine here, and maybe you should find the opened bottle and pour a drink.” Keep stirring.
5) When the wine has all but evaporated, add a few tablespoons of the veggie stock. Keep stirring, tracing your spoon along the pot’s walls, cutting it figure-eight through the middle, and sliding it under the rice. When the stock has evaporated, add more. Stir until dry. Spoon in stock again. Repeat for a total of 18 to 23 minutes, adding the asparagus some five minutes before the rice is tender but toothsome.
6) Take the risotto off the heat. Stir in the cheese. Stir in the asparagus purée. Let risotto sit for a minute, then portion onto plates, drizzling olive oil and grating more cheese atop each pile. Eat.