Mindfulness has been on my mind lately (ha, ha). I talked about it in my last post here as one of the things I want from Christmas. But it’s not just something I want from Christmas, it’s something I want all the time. It is a state of active, open attention on the present. When I’m mindful, I observe my thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting my life pass me by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
Although I’m not a Buddhist, mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological awareness that is considered of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. And no, just because I practice mindfulness does not make me a Buddhist. It won’t make you one, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s a lot of good to learn from Buddhism…like mindfulness.
Consider this the cliff notes version of mindfulness. When practicing mindfulness, for instance by watching your breath or slowly stirring a risotto, one must remember to maintain attention on the chosen object of awareness, faithfully returning back to refocus on that object whenever the mind wanders away from it. You leave a risotto cooking on the stove and you’ll end up with burned crust. Not exactly what you’re trying to achieve with a good risotto. Mindfulness means not only, moment to moment awareness of present events, but also, remembering to be aware of something or to do something at a designated time in the future. In fact, the primary connotation of the Sanskrit term (smrti=mindfulness) is recollection.
Mindfulness is the act of awareness, just being in the present. According to Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, ”…we have to forget things like “I should be mindful of this or that”. If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation (“I – am – mindful – of – ….”). Don’t be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk. Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.”
A good risotto is the epitome of mindfulness. It’s not hard to make a good risotto, but it requires patience. Most require you to stand at the stove, continually stirring, for at least 20 minutes. Creating risotto doesn’t allow for shortcuts. Consider it the perfect time to practice mindfulness. You can’t walk away and you cant’ forget about the risotto. You have to pay careful attention to it. Notice the chicken broth absorbing into the rice. Watch the rice very slowly puff while it soaks up the broth. Embrace the aromas wafting towards your nose. Breathe deeply and relax. Let the gentle stirring awaken a mindful meditation. Give thanks for the pause of silence, the restful peace of stillness. I’ll admit, trying to take pictures while doing this wasn’t exactly restful, but it did create a deeper awareness. I could focus on the grains of rice, the crispy pancetta, the curling mushrooms.
To make a good risotto, use only Italian risotto rice. Arborio is the one most commonly available in American markets. The grains of this rice are short and stubby and absorb liquid without becoming gluey (unless they are overcooked). The rice is stirred constantly, with hot stock added a cup at a time, until it has reached a point of softness but with the grains retaining their shape. They should be creamy, with a slightly resistant core and should not stick together or to the bottom of the pan.
Essential to making risotto is the broth, preferably homemade, but a low-sodium canned stock will work fine (bouillon cubes tend to be too salty and should only be used in emergencies). Make sure you have the stock on a low simmer as you prepare the rice. You’ll want to make sure to keep the broth hot in a separate pan as you slowly combine the two together. Use a wide, heavy saucepan or skillet (if the pan is too light, the risotto can burn) and a wooden spoon to stir the rice.
Risotto is the perfect comfort food on a cold winter’s night, or fall, or spring, or summer…pretty much anytime of the year. It’s also the perfect moment to create an aura of mindfulness. Let yourself take a breather from the crazy hustle and bustle of Christmas. Absorb the quiet peace as you create a comforting dish with love for your family. Or just yourself. Nobody said you had to share it.
- 3 cups no-salt-added chicken stock
- ½ cup water
- ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces chopped pancetta
- 2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps
- 1½ cups chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (approx. 3-4 cloves)
- 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- Bring the chicken stock and ½ cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Keep it warm over low heat. Set aside ¼ cup of the warm stock mixture.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Coat the pan with the extra virgin olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook 5 minutes or until crisp, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic; cook for 6 minutes until tender.
- Stir in the rice and sage; cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the wine and cook for 30 seconds or until the liquid is absorbed.
- Stir in 1¼ cups of the stock mixture and salt. Cook for 4 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, gently stirring constantly. Add the remaining stock mixture, ¾ cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This takes about 22 minutes total.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the pumpkin, mascarpone, chives, and pepper until it’s creamy and the mascarpone has melted. Stir in the reserved stock mixture as needed until the risotto is a desired consistency. The mixture should be creamy and a bit loose and the rice should still have some chew to it.
- Spoon 1 cup of the risotto into each of 4 bowls and sprinkle evenly with pine nuts and extra chives.
*Recipe adapted from Cooking Light