This first appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoneix on 16 January 2006.
My husband gave me a cookbook for Christmas that’s heavy enough to be a door stop. It’s called The Silver Spoon, or in Italian, Il Cucchiaio d’Argento. It’s been the most popular cookbook in Italy for 50 years. With 2,000 recipes, it’s massive.My goal is to adapt it to Saskatchewan.
This is, for the most part, an easy task because so many traditional Italian recipes can be made with Saskatchewan ingredients. Pesto, for instance, is a popular pasta sauce. The primary ingredients are basil and garlic, which thrive in our hot dry summers. Opening the book at random, I come to Tomato and Mozzarella Packets. It calls for cherry tomatoes, basil and parsley (all grown here), mozzarella cheese (made by Saputo in Saskatoon), eggs, pancetta (bacon or ham will do) and pastry.
I should explain my motives: Since last spring, I have been eating almost nothing but Saskatchewan foods in my own home. It’s an experiment in local consumption that’s good for the economy, for the environment and for my health. My taste buds like it, too. In fact, I have adopted some habits of a traditional Italian cook. I shop at the farmers’ market, I buy foods that are fresh and in season, and I choose recipes that fit the ingredients on hand (rather than buying "imported" ingredients to fit the recipe).
The first thing I cooked out of The Silver Spoon was Mushroom Risotto, which I made for New Year’s Eve dinner with grilled steaks, coleslaw and, for dessert, cake with cherry sauce.
Risotto is a rice dish named for the Italian word for rice, riso. For risotto, the water is added one cup at a time, until the rice is plump and creamy, not dry and fluffy like boiled rice. The risotto section in The Silver Spoon is eleven pages long. Of course, white rice is not grown in Saskatchewan, but no matter, because I have discovered it is equally delicious made with pearl barley.
Which raises an important question: What do you call risotto made with barley instead of rice. Since the Italian word for barley is orzo, I’ve decided to call it orzotto. There you have it – the invention of a new Saskatchewan dish.
My pearl barley was purchased last summer from the Daybreak Farm near Estevan. As for the mushrooms, I used chanterelle I picked myself in the forest near La Ronge, which I sautéed lightly in butter and froze. (The Italian recipe calls for dried mushrooms; you might be able to get some at the Saskatchewan Made Store on 8th Street. Soak in water before cooking.) I also used my garden tomatoes (frozen), rosemary (dried), parsley (which is miraculously holding out in a vase of water in my fridge) and fresh sage (which is still green underneath the snow).
1 cup sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter
2 T butter
2 T olive or canola oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 sprig each rosemary, sage and parsley, chopped
4-5 tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper
6-7 cups water or vegetable stock, boiling
2 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Melt the butter and oil in a stockpot. Sauté the garlic, onion and herbs until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the barley, stirring until the grains are shiny and little liquid remains in the pan. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Add a cup of boiling water (or stock), stirring until it is absorbed. Continue to add water, one cup at a time, stirring until each one is absorbed before adding the next. As you get closer to done, the barley will need more stirring to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When the barley is almost done, add the mushrooms. Stir in the parmesan cheese. The orzotto is ready when the barley is just tender to the bite. Sprinkle each serving with some cheese and perhaps some fresh parsley.