Sotto Voce

A big part of successful creativity is understanding and working with one’s own laziness. In the studio, that means trying to always have something to work on without needing to futz around for ages before I can get started; I use odd bits of time to sand or prime things so that when I have a whole day I am good to go with the real work. Cooking, which sadly does not justify hours of prep time the way the paintings do, nonetheless makes use of the same principle. For example, I make bread dough after dinner so it’s risen and ready to bake first thing the next morning: about ten minutes of effort divided in half by twelve hours of doing other things. But the best illustration of banked effort yielding greatly multiplied dividends later on is stock.

Sometimes I make a specific stock for a specific purpose, by the book, but usually it’s just the week’s bones tossed into the pot with aromatics and such and barely simmered for a few hours with some skimming thrown in for clarity. Then I strain and freeze it in quart containers. Run some hot water around the outside and squeeze it into a pot and the frozen cylinder of edible equity achieves liquidity in short order, ready to transform arid grains into toothsome treats in no time.

In other words, I make risotto a lot when I’m in a hurry. I can do this because I have stock in the freezer at all times.

In this case the stock was chicken and lamb bones, simmered with a turnip, a carrot, some fennel trimmings, and a few sprigs of parsley (the stems are grand for flavoring stock). I cut up another carrot and a small rutabaga, and found some snap peas in the freezer, so those would comprise the condimento. And since this was to be a mostly vegetable affair, I cut a few slices of guanciale and minced them up to add some oomph to the soffrito. But what made this noteworthy, and not just another weeknight phone-in, was another discovery in the fridge:

I love grapefruit. And now, at the darkest time of year for locavores, I enjoy wallowing in the decadent pleasure of pink grapefruit grown a thousand miles away. This one made me think that some citrusy brightness might be just the ticket to liven up this humble bowl of rice, offering as it did an irresistibly rosy alternative to the wine bottle full of cider vinegar next to the stove. So I squeezed it and folded the juice (and some pulp) into the rice as it cooked. The roots went in early, and the peas late, so everything was properly cooked by the time the rice was ready.

I dusted the dishes with black and Espelette pepper for a blush of heat before serving. The result was gently harmonious, subtly elegant, and richly satisfying. In a perfect world I would have pulled the grapefruit segments apart into their component sacs and strewn these in and over the rice when plating, but that idea (which I love) will have to wait for a more elegant and leisurely occasion. Meantime, give it a shot. And if you live where citrus is plentiful, I hate you enjoy!

6 comments to Sotto Voce

  • I have used lemon juice in place of the usual wine in risotto and liked that change, so I can imagine that the grapefruit would be a winner, too.

  • I should send you a picture of the thousands of clementines, oranges, Meyers, tangelos and grapefruits dotting the Sacramento landscape before they rot off the trees b/c people here are jaded and don’t care. You would feel the same strange predatory urge to get out your pruner and attack that I do. We live in NObama-land though and I am fearful of pilfering due to the amount of artillery in any given neighborhood:(

  • Peter

    Zoomie: It is. I bet you’ll try it.

    Marisa: Just shout “It’s OK, I’m not Mexican” when you’re picking the fruit.

  • Grapefruit always remind me of my mother’s attempts at slimming in the 80s when she’d take half of one each morning sprinkled with artificial sweetener and spend the rest of the morning hungry and irritable. I imagine the sweetness of rutabaga goes rather well with the grapefruit juice, cutting a little of the fattiness of the pig cheeks too. Some very good ideas in here for me to call my own.

  • Peter

    I’m definitely going to redo this the fancy way; the flavors really worked.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

Rage Against The Vitrine

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