I fell in love with Italian cuisine when my father used to take me to this small family owned and operated restaurant in our hometown.  Now granted I didn’t venture far from home at the time so my experience with Italian food was very limited. A saucy and tangy tomato sauce topped with 2 large and moist meatballs. Yum yum yum…

I endlessly watched Lydia Bastianich when I was growing up with all those old and classic PBS cooking series.  I love love loved making pasta at home for my brothers, and experimented constantly with different ways to wrap flavor around and through strands of pasta.  I dreamed of studying Italian food with an old Italian grandmother.

One day I discovered risotto and I slowly expanded my repertoire.  What I definitely like about this recipe is its warm and rich characteristics.  The root vegetables lends a wonderful sweetness and the butter and parmesan add another level of flavor and richness. I wanted to marry the idea of Italian and Vietnamese cooking.  So on a cold and foggy San Francisco summer I decided to make an Aborio Rice Porridge.   In Vietnamese we call it a Chao…Here is the rough recipe.

Root Vegetable Chao

For the Stock:

1/2 Left Over Roasted chicken
1 Large yellow Onion
1 cup stalks of celery
1 cup  carrots
1 cup rutabagas
1 cup turnips
a good size rind of parmesan Cheese
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
1 1/2  cup Aborio Rice
4 cloves Garlic
The rest of the reserved Root Vegetables.
4  cups Chicken stock
1/2  cup White wine
1 T Marjoram
4 T butter
olive oil, Salt & Pepper,
Garnish-Cilantro, Scallions, limes.


Season chicken well and roast bones/scraps with salt and pepper, roast on high.

Dice: Onions, Carrots, rutabaga, turnip and celery (reserve 1/2 of each for later).  Smash your Cloves Garlic.

Saute onions (sweat) add 2 cloves smashed garlic, add the diced rutabaga and carrots and add your rough minced marjoram as well as butter.

Add stock and a bit of water, now add the roasted chicken, and parm rind.   Deglaze the pan with white wine to release the drippings add all the goodness to the stock pot.  Season with salt.  Simmer for 1-2 hours.  Deeper flavors will form when you simmer for longer.

When the hour has past, and flavors have started to mingle, in a soup pot heat your olive oil,  Add the 4 cloves of smashed garlic infuse the pan with garlic oil, now add the Aborio rice coat well with oil  add a bit of oil and toast lightly.  Add your vegetable medley that was saved from earlier and continue to stir cook till onions are slightly transluscent.

Photo by Daniel Dent

While that rice is toasting  begin to strain your stock.  Remove your chicken pieces and cool.

Add a good heaping amount of stock to your toasted (not burnt) Aborio rice.  You want to add about triple the amount of water at once and let simmer. Remember you want a porridge not a risotto so add all liquids at once, but more stock can be added as the process thickens.   I think it’s s

o pretty with those sweet root vegetables floating with the Aborio rice.  Add more stock depending on how brothy you would like your porridge.

Season well with salt and pepper.  When chicken bones are cooled pick apart the meat, and leave some ski

n for a nice richness. Add scraps of meat into the porridge.  Stir and let simmer for another 30 minutes. Total give for take an hour or an hour plus+. What about those large chunks of garlic?  By this time they have melted and can be smashed down some more to give the porridge a bit of a buttery soft & savory richness. It just adds to the all around wonderful quality of the dish.

By this time the broth has becomes rich and glutenous but still slightly brothy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, and a wedge of lime.

Muy Facile…

There is so much that I am usually passionate about but nothing compares to my love for food taste and flavor. The whole plethora of taste and the wonderful senses that sometimes nearly levitates you.

It’s like love.

I find that passion with each kitchen that I have had the opportunity to come across. The sometimes stoney high that you can get from smelling the sweet wood smoke from the brick oven that turns out rich and moist roasted chickens, with their white linen table clothes and jazz fillng the air. The clean and casual smell of fresh fish that mimics the smells of the ocean only to be found in a very small boutique sushi restaurant. The loud ambiance and rush of smells that rush at you when you enter one of san francisco’s punk rock urban Italian ghetto dining spots. The corporate streamlined chaos of a kitchen filled with every South American male within reach, the white linen clothes, and the loud crowds. The RUSH THE RUSH THE RUSH!

Every kitchen has its different rush and I am excited and maybe a bit hesitant to see whats to come. I remember reading one of Anthony Bourdain’s books when he explains the kitchen like a beautiful dance, and well at the salad stations when things can get slow and the saute guys are sweating profusely, the grill guys are supposed to cook the meat Justttt right the pasta guy, to the guy that has to plate alll of the salumis ( thats me sometimes) hey…so far the salad kids have it easy. I’m learning every second that I’m there.

Sometimes when I get off of work I smell like salumis. I spend my days at this Italian restaurant slicing various salami’s and salumis. Difference? A salami is a dried sausage stick, salumis are really all cold cuts and cured meats! That’s how I get it. Sometimes my fingers are blackened from picking and choppin cured black olives, sometimes they take on the bright red qualities from the roasted beets that I peel and slice.  Sometimes unattractively they smell like vinegar when I continuously toss salads with my hands all day, and all of this I truly find invigorating.   When I am at the station–It’s a total sensory experience.  That beautiful tactile experience you get when you make a simple crudo plate or when you can feel the glistening fat off a piece of mortadella. The gentle touch to a salad, being careful not to bruise the leaves.

The other day I learned that my first investment in a kitchen knife wasn’t sharp enough, after I sharpened the knife the sound of slicing a scallion was completely different. This is what I mean by sensory. You adapt to so many things in the kitchen…once you experience the good you never want to go back. Now I want to sharpen my knife whenever my ears tell me to.

My ears also allow me to listen to the tunes that are playing, swimming through my mind with whatever task  that’s in the kitchen.  I will hum the tune of Julieta Vinegas in one kitchen,  while another it could be the buzz of Stereolab, and while slicing salumis I could be using that Berkel to the catchy rythym of the Ramones. The other day I couldn’t get this particular Spits song out of my head.  My mornings breakfast and baking cravings and dinner nights could be played alongside a soundtrack of Nirvana, The Smiths, or a streaming Podcast of lovely classical music.

I am passionate about food because words cannot simply express what it is that I feel deep inside when I adapt to my kitchen environment. I am passionate about food because when I first came into contact with my favorite pasta maker we connected through broken Spanish, and mainly body language.

No No…Muy Facile” he told me when I became to rough with the pasta… Gentle Gentle...

He was a kind kind man with who reminded me of a Latin American Luigi.  He had a bit of a belly, slightly curly dark hair and that signature upper mustache of the Mario Brothers clan.  “PARP-PARR-DEHL-LEH!” He would explain…“RAH-VEE-OHH-LOH” it was as if an Italian soul was locked inside him. From him I learned the gentle hand of a not so rough man. We barely could comprehend one another but eye contact smiles and simple words, we forged a silent bond that was inspiring to me.