by Charlene Burgi
As the youngest child, it was common to be on the receiving end of hand-me-downs from my older sister. It was either her clothes or big toy items like an outgrown bike that came my way. Admittedly, these hand-outs were rarely met with glee on my part.
As I look back, there were other treasures that were handed down to me in my youth that I still cherish today. My four grandparents came to the United States from Northern Italy. They had a passion for gardening, and with them came the “old country” methods of working the soil, planting by the moon, harvesting crops and, of course, preparing the meal. I learned to get dirt under my fingernails at a very young age. I learned that planting seeds for leafy greens was better just before a full moon and root crops always fared better during the wane. I learned that earthworms indicated healthy soil, and how to hand pick the insects and slugs that were not so beneficial. The families practiced organic gardening before it carried the buzzword of today.
Double-digging was a way of life . . . who ever heard of a rototiller? Placing large planks between the rows helped distribute our weight and prevented soil compaction. Fertilizers were worked into the soil to rot over the winter months, and organic teas were commonly made from the fertilizer produced from birds and animals living on the property. In the fall, seeds were harvested from the strongest plants to use for the next spring planting. Fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers were always in abundance, yet nothing was wasted.
We also relied on various members of the family to grow enough of their specialty, such as crops of basil to be used for Pasta with Pesto, or saffron for Risotto Milanese.
The gardens were works of art. I can still visualize walking around the rock gardens, studying the intricate patterns formed by the succulents, violets and campanula. The birds-eye gravel paths of these gardens allowed rainwater to soak into the ground. Strawberries were tucked into old wine barrels. The yet-ripe fruit would beckon me to return the next day to check on their harvest.
As a child, I was handed down the memory of seeing a hillside covered with beautiful flowers and fruit trees that my grandfather planted to share with all the neighbors when he exhausted the planting areas on their own property. “Borrowed landscape” is a term we use today as we blend our gardens into open space or the adjacent neighbor’s yard and create the illusion that our garden is larger; the eye doesn’t stop at our property line. Looking back, I wonder how he managed to irrigate the plants on that steep hill, and how wonderful for him to create this community garden for all to share.
As I stated, hand-me-downs are sometimes a treasure. This recipe falls into that category as it was handed down to me. Of course, there comes a price with any hand-off. In this case the recipe cooked in my kitchen is always accompanied by the comment, “It’s good, Mom, but not as good as Noni’s.”
Homemade chicken broth
1 cup Sauterne white wine
1 onion – chopped
4 tablespoons dried mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/16 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
In a saucepan bring chicken broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.
Soak dry mushrooms in broth to hydrate. Once hydrated, cut into small bite-size pieces and add to chicken broth.
Finely chop onion in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan. Saute onion in 2 tablespoons butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add rice, stirring to coat with butter. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking at a simmer and adding broth/mushroom mixture, about a soup ladle at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender and creamy-looking. Stir in ¾ cups Parmesan cheese, saffron, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste and cook over low heat until heated through, about 3 minutes. Turn risotto onto a platter and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Have a great weekend. Hopefully I will see you at the Eco Friendly Garden Tour.