My Italian professor in Florence had a favorite saying: any time I or another student rushed through reading Italian sentences or sprinted out of the classroom at the conclusion of the day’s lesson, she would always say, “piano, piano.” Translated to mean “slowly, slowly,” the words served to remind us to slow down our pace to take the time to relax and appreciate the simple moments.
Of course, being all American students at a villa in Fiesole, the philosophy of piano piano was not easily adaptable. Used to running around with a caffeinated fix in one hand and a ringing cell phone in the other, we Americans are constantly on the move. In the United States, coffee shops and fast food chains can be found on every corner, and many stores proudly light up their 24-hour service displays. Americans live for the green light, the moment when they can step on the gas pedal and speed to the next stop and cross off another item on the to-do list.
In Italy, however, the exact opposite is true. For Americans in the Mediterranean country, it might seem as if the Italians never owned a watch or cared to know the time. Drinking coffee is not a two-minute, drive-thru affair, but rather an extended period of lingering at the bar to chat with the proprietor about the latest soccer scores or Berlusconi scandal. Meals are three-course, hour-plus events to socialize with family, friends, and neighbors and to take a break during or relax after a long day. On the boot-shaped peninsula, punctuality is rare; nothing ever seems to start on time, and yet there are few problems. There are no concerns about juggling a list of errands or scheduled appointments. Whereas Americans seem to value time as money, Italians prefer to savor time through pleasure. Though someone from the U.S. could think of a dozens of better things to do than stand at a bar for 20 minutes drinking coffee, Italians live for such simple, everyday opportunities.
Adjusting to the life of piano, piano was one of the most challenging cultural aspects of living in Italy. I have been back in America less than one week, and I must shamefully admit that I have already indulged in four coffees to-go and heard my Blackberry buzz more times than my Italian cell phone did all semester. But though I admit to quickly re-succumbing to the hustle-and-bustle American lifestyle, I am making efforts to slow down and appreciate life’s everyday joys.
One recent attempt at living slowly, slowly was in my preparation of the classic Italian primo piatto, risotto. Risotto is a very time-consuming and attention-devoted dish, therefore it is not a popular item prepared in the nation that propelled Rachael Ray to 30-Minute Meals fame. Yet, though some might consider it too labor intensive, a creamy, steaming bowl of risotto is always worth the effort.
Looking to avoid another meal spent eating Easter leftovers, I felt inspired by a recipe from the Villa Le Balze cookbook and decided to try my hand at preparing a risotto. Perhaps taking a cue from Italy, spring is taking its time to arrive to New England, but while the forecast does not compare to the springtime temperatures on the Italian peninsula, the markets are teeming with products perfect for a springtime fest. In light of this bounty, I decided that asparagus risotto was a great way to eat seasonally and practice the piano, piano way of life.
Risotto Agli Asparagi: Asparagus Risotto
Inspired by The Kitchen on the Cliff: Recipes from Georgetown University’s Villa Le Balze
- 4 cups of chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 bunch of asparagus, sliced diagonally
- Zest of 1 lemon, grated
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- In a medium saucepan, simmer chicken stock on low heat to warm.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter on medium heat and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add asparagus, lemon zest, garlic clove, and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the heat to medium-low and cook another 2-3 minutes.
5. Add the white wine and cook until all the liquid has evaporated, between 1-2 minutes.
6. Add the hot broth, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly, until liquid is mostly absorbed and risotto is al dente, approximately 20 minutes. When the mixture begins to dry out, add a new ladle full of stock. When there is less than 1 cup of broth remaining, begin to taste the mixture; the rice should be tender, but still have a bite to it.
- 7. Once all the liquid has been absorbed, producing a creamy risotto, remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately.