Julia Child in Delhi – Elena Tommaseo Cooks Her Indo-Italian Bathua Risotto, Greater Kailash Enclave I
The great chef’s life in Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is that icy season of the year when our chachis/chachas and mamis/mamas surprise us with delicious bathua parathas. Some home kitchens rustle out rotis and raitas out of these aromatic winter-time green leaves. Some add bathua to flavour their dals.
But have you heard of bathua risotto?
Risotto is a rice dish from Italy, the land that doesn’t grow bathua.
It’s actually a Delhi woman who invented this rarity.
Designer Elena Tommaseo, a native of Venice in Italy, lives in Greater Kailash Enclave I. She is the sole dweller of her tasteful South Delhi apartment—her bookshelves and the accompanying divan make for a perfect paradise. The shy woman agrees to share her secret experiments with the Indo-Italian fusion cuisine. She insists that she is as “khush” with the simple dal-chawal. After all, this is her eighth year in our country, long enough for her to find a second home in the “khana.”
It must be however said that Ms Tommaseo has a great weakness for the Afghani restaurants of Lajpat Nagar. She used to live in that neighbourhood until last year. In fact, she still sometimes buys her vegetables from there. “Every now and then I get my subzis from Sanjay’s stall,” she says, wistfully talking of her “so honest and kind subzi walla” who won her heart all those years ago “when he concernedly replaced a shimla mirch that I had chosen with a fresher, better one.”
Unlike many of her other Delhi acquaintances, the lady’s favorite vegetable seller never bothers her with questions like: “Are you married?” “What is your age?”
Some of Delhi’s friendly auto-rickshaw drivers particularly show an active interest in Ms Tommaseo’s marital status. By now she has developed a standard response to quickly kill the curiosity–“Yes, I’m married. Yes, my husband is a businessman. Yes, I have two children. Yes, one boy, one girl.”
Bustling about in her spacious dimly-lit kitchen, Ms Tommaseo recalls the evening she first discovered bathua in the subzi market. Later that day, smelling the leaves at home, she was instantly transported to her “bachpan”. The scent was very similar to that of a certain herb that grows in the wilds in Italy, she says.
As a little girl spending summer vacations at her nonno’s (grandfather’s) mansion in the countryside near Venice, Ms Tommaseo’s “aunties and mamma” would make risotto with that herb. “So that evening in my small flat in Lajpat Nagar I decided to make that same risotto out of the bathua… and it turned out to be a beautiful experience because it tasted similar to the risotto I would have at nonno’s.”
Now so far removed from the days of her childhood and from the country of her birth, this Delhi woman prepares a dish that bridges the distance between her past and present.
Ingredients (for 4 people)
250 gm bathua
1 big onion
10 handful of rice specific for risotto (there are 4 varieties: carnaroli, vialone nano, roma and baldo)
1 stock cube (veg or meat)
1 litre water approx
50 gm butter
3 handful of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 glass of white wine (if available)
Chop and wash the bathua, removing the stems and the yellowish leaves.
Chop the onion and fry it in a casserole with half of the butter. Keep the flame low and stir it till becomes soft and add bathua.
Meanwhile put a pan of water on the fire and add the stock, take the water to the boiling point.
Stir and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Let it cook for approx 5 minutes and then add the rice (Do not wash it because it is important to retain its starch).
Stir well for 5 minutes making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the casserole.
At this point, if you have it, add 1/2 glass of white (not red) wine and stir for few minutes until the liquid evaporates.
With a ladle start adding the water, couple of ladles at a time, and keep stirring (medium flame). When almost all the water gets absorbed, add two more ladles and so on till the rice is cooked but do not overcook it.
Adjust the salt if needed (depends on the size of the stock cubes). Always better to use less stock and adjust later rather than spoil the whole dish.
Remove the pan from the fire and add the remaining butter plus two handful of parmesan cheese and stir well. Leave it for 2 minutes and serve.
The remaining cheese can be sprinkled on top of each plate once the rice is plated up.
Eat it immediately.
With this amount of farm fresh bathua, butter and cheese, she qualifies to be an “honorary Jat from Haryana”. Welcome home.
Bathua is a weedy plant that is widespread all over the world. Rich in iron like spinach. Perhaps it is the same plant in Italy.
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