Lidia Bastianich, sly PBS cooking show star. She, more than many TV chefs, protects her recipes. You’ll find a few online, but if you want the benefit of her wisdom, you must buy the books.
And good for her! Why should artists give their work away while most people (except housewives) get paid for their work?
One Saturday morning several weeks back, as I lay in bed exhausted from sleeping so well the night before, I caught her working with arborio rice. Presumably, she had been making risottos, but I only watched her visit to a rice farm in Italy and her last recipe, which had the creaminess of a risotto without the fussiness of having to stir in the liquid tablespoonful by tablespoonful.
Side note—the Italian nobleman and his mother who owned the arborio farm were drop-dead gorgeous. I mean should be sculpted in marble and portrayed on cameos gorgeous. Carbs can’t be that bad for you after all, mom!
It did not occur to me until after I turned off the show that not only had I not written anything down, she hadn’t given any exact measurements. Time to improvise. I don’t feel guilty about revealing her recipe because there’s no telling if this is actually a close-enough approximation of her recipe.
2-3 stalks of celery
small onion or big leek
2-3 chicken breasts
1 cup or so white wine
box of broth
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 TBS butter
1/4 c. or so parmesan cheese
I had an onion, but frankly, it seemed a bit past its prime. I happened to have leeks left over from last night, so washed off one of those bad boys, and it worked just fine. Here’s why you always want to wash leeks carefully, peeling off a few layers to see what lies beneath:
At least once a year, and sometimes more often, my parents cannot resist gifting us with some nifty gadget they’ve seen advertised on television. Most are re-gifted, when I can get away with it. So I was pleased to discover that the As Seen on TV bags they gave us actually have kept our celery crisp for well over a week! With these bags, and now that I’ve exiled the beer from the crisper drawer, there’s no telling how long we’ll be able to keep some vegetables.
Lidia whirled the carrots, celery, and onion around in the food processor, and while I like that method if I’m in a rush, I also find you can get onion mush if you are overzealous in your application of the pulse button. Today, especially because I was subbing in the leeks, I chopped by hand, then added to the pot with some olive oil:
Once the chicken is mostly cooked, add the wine. Have I mentioned I’m doing all of this cooking over medium/medium-high heat? Well, I am. The wine should simmer pretty quickly, which also means the alcohol will burn off. And that’s fine.
While you have been doing all of that, you should also be heating the chicken stock or broth so it will be hot, although not boiling, when you add it in a bit. Sorry if you wish I’d mentioned that earlier.
So, once the wine has cooked off a bit, stir in all of the rice. What you’ll get will look a little like like un-fried sesame chicken at a Chinese restaurant:
When it is done, turn the heat back up and uncover it, stirring while more of the liquid boils off. Just do this for a minute or so.
Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. I suspect you could stir in chopped flat-leaf parsley at this point, but I never remember to do so, and am not sure whether Lidia does or whether I imagined it. You’ll get a very creamy dish that looks like this:
Great comfort food on a rainy day. We rely on this recipe to get us through several days without cooking. We don’t get tired of it too quickly, and I don’t think I’ve ever had to throw any out that we just couldn’t manage to eat.