“My wife’s a better cook than yours” was the common refrain on fishing boats plying the Adriatic Sea. These rugged men would leave home for three or four days at a time, each carrying a lunch toolbox of sorts. What was easy to cook in these harsh conditions? Risotto. Their wives sent them off with the key ingredient: a homemade broth they each claimed was the best in the world.
The recipe begins with a savory broth the women would make from inexpensive fish and scraps. The broth kept for days in the winter, and made for a quick, hot meal on the open seas.
We have Massimo Malpezzi to thank for the recipe. You may know Max from one of our tours – he’s lead them since the early ‘90’s – or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to dine at his seafood restaurant in Cesenatico, a short drive from our Italian base.
This week, our Italian staff tested this ancient recipe in our “test kitchen,” i.e. the farm. The good news is we loved it. The bad news is… well, there isn’t any bad news.
It’s an easy recipe, but you do need to plan ahead as the cooking time for the broth is long.
The Broth (Makes 1 quart of broth):
1 medium onion
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (concentrate)
2 quarts water
2 lbs. fresh fish. (In Italy, Max used small fish called “paganello” and “pesce cordelle” (see picture – the gray one is paganello and the red one is pesce cordelle). Look for similar small fish, or use pieces of cod, halibut, or sea bass.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion in large pieces and sauté them in 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When the onions are transparent, add the tomato concentrate and brown it lightly, being careful not to burn it. Add two quarts of water and boil lightly for an hour or more, until about ¼ of the liquid has evaporated. Add the fish. If you’re using small fish you can put them in whole, heads and all. Simmer for 60 – 90 minutes.
You’ll need to strain and mash the broth through a strainer (see picture) with a wooden spoon. Save the liquid. You’ll discard most of the solids, but a few pieces of fish will be a nice addition to your risotto if you add them to the broth.
Add salt and black pepper to taste
The Risotto (Serves four)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
½ medium onion, diced
Arborio or Carnarolli rice (about 2 handfuls per person)
The broth you just made
1 lb. clams (optional)
If you’re using clams, sauté them (covered) in 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Once they’ve opened, let them cool and remove the shells. Set the clams aside for later.
Sauté the diced onion in the oil and butter until transparent. Add the rice and toast over medium heat for three to four minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning the onion. Add enough broth to completely cover the rice. Stirring constantly, add a ladle of broth as needed to maintain a slightly liquid consistency.
After about 15 minutes, the rice should be almost done. Taste it to check.
If you’re using the clams, add them for the last three or four minutes of cooking.
Serve with a full-bodied white, or light red wine.