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Springtime Risotto

With Passover just a blur in our rear view mirrors, we can once again indulge in bread and rice. Still, during this time of mind-numbing Atlanta traffic, with a portion of I-85 being rebuilt after it collapsed from a fire and I-20 having buckled as well, I have to ask: why is this city different than all other cities? Seriously Atlanta, what's up with that? Our transportation woes aren't new news. Minor snowfall has paralyzed the highway system more than once, systematically shutting us down. And our mass transit is anything but mass. In fact, MARTA only extends through the city - not into the suburbs - making highways the major arteries to the beating heart of the ATL. We Atlantans are inextricably bound to our cars. And with the collapsed stretch of I-85 about a mile from our house, our neighborhood of Morningside is now a thoroughfare, jammed so tight with traffic that my 20-minute trips north to the barn and pilates now take 45 minutes at best.

I have to give our Mayor props (in case he's reading this). He shut down all other road construction to make the surface streets easier to navigate as we Waze our way around town. I have currently employed my own car routine in an effort to keep it together in traffic or as bloggers say, "My Top Three Ways to Survive Atlanta Traffic." First, I've started listening to podcasts ("The Top Three Podcasts You Should be Listening to Now"). "You Must Remember This" provides comprehensive Hollywood back-stories. I binged through one about Charles Manson and another about Joan Crawford (thank you, Anne Hubbell). "Missing Richard Simmons" searches for the elusive fitness freak (thank you, Amy Leavell Bransford). And S-Town is the next installment from the Serial folks (thank you, EVERYONE). I also keep an ever-ready bottle of water in one cup holder so I don't die of thirst, a YETI full of coffee in the other cup holder to sate my addiction to caffeine, and a bag of almonds in the glove box lest I starve to death. Still, based on the road rage I've seen lately, there's still a chance we all might die.

Over the past couple of weeks I've seen some pretty despicable driving maneuvers. There was the guy who whizzed up the shoulder of the highway and then cut back into traffic, which I may have been guilty of doing myself. There was the guy who acted like he couldn't see me trying to merge into his lane as he glued his front bumper to the car in front of him, which I also may have done once or twice. But then there was the guy in a van who tried to run me off the road . That one really got me -- like trembling and dripping with sweat kind of got me. Traffic was barely crawling, he and I were both in one lane and I was hanging out of my window begging him to yield so I didn't topple off an embankment. To all of you I say, behave. We're all inconvenienced at best by traffic. But the rage is too much. I'm still trying to figure out where Richard Simmons is. Spoiler alert: we might never know.

Out of the car and into the kitchen, I just want to stand over the stove and stir. Slowly stir. Like making Sunday morning grits with cream and butter, because it's Sunday and that's no time to cut out the fat. But tonight it's risotto, and I'm getting read to slowly stir, add liquid and slowly stir. The aroma of sauteed onions sets the stage for the Arborio rice. Then the wine to deglaze. Then more liquid. Slowly stir. Repeating this process is blissfully hypnotic. When it's all incorporated we have risotto. Please, bring on the risotto. That most magnificent of comfort foods. The one that will soften the blow, because we may never know where is Richard Simmons. To help me forget about the traffic and that crazy man in the van. Because, really, didn't most "After School Specials" about why not to talk to strangers involve a man in a van. In fact, outside of the ice cream man in the van, the man in the van is almost always a bad thing. Inside the kitchen I'm safe to slowly stir. Add liquid. Slowly stir.

Risotto is a rock star of dishes. It takes a while to make. The whole slowly stir, add liquid, repeat thing. It's a thing. But it's worth it. Because your labor will render the ultimate comfort food that can be amended to be a hearty winter dish or a light spring repast, depending on your ingredients. It's springtime in Atlanta, and the farmers markets are ripe with produce. I scored three different kinds of onions, some fresh mushrooms and gorgeous asparagus. No more driving today. Just slowly stirring and adding liquid.


1 C Arborio

1 C spring onion, chopped

1/2 C fresh mushrooms, cleaned, chopped

1/2 C dried mushrooms, steeped in 1 Q hot water, reserve the mushroom stock that it yeilds

1 C white wine

1 bunch asparagus, blanched with the tips reserved

1 C Parmesan cheese (grated)

1/2 stick butter


Olive oil

Bring one quart of water to a boil. Add dried mushrooms, cover and turn to low. Sautee onions in olive oil until soft. Strain dried mushrooms from stock, reserving liquid. Add fresh and dried mushrooms and the asparagus to the sauteed onions. Sautee for about five minutes. Add the rice and sautee until the grains start to look translucent. Add the wine and turn to high. Deglaze the pan for about a minute - just long enough to cook out the alcohol. Turn to low and start adding the hot mushroom stock ladle by ladle, stirring well to ensure that it's absorbed before you add the next ladleful. After about 45 minutes your risotto should be thick and have absorbed all of the liquid. Add the parmesan cheese and the butter. Stir to incorporate. Top with asparagus tips. Serve immediately.

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