Don't Confuse the Risotto

Don't Confuse the Risotto
Illustration by Shea Scott

By Kenny Severson

I’m excited. I met someone. Rosalyn. We knew each other from my last job at the university. She’s a poetry teacher. We flirted at the end-of-year potluck and over the summer when she stopped by the office with her dog, Odie. Our run-ins broke up the monotony of my Kafkaesque admin office. 

I went from working admin at the university to working the grill at a vegan diner. I asked Rosalyn out on Hinge. Her grading load and my restaurant schedule made us perfect Monday night dates. The first Monday, we did coffee near campus. The next, Thai food and an arcade. By that third Monday, I wanted to do something special for Rosalyn. I wanted to cook for her. 

I didn’t want to cook just anything. My need to impress and gnawing OCD demanded nothing less than absolute perfection. I landed on risotto. 

Risotto is a creamy rice dish made with Arborio rice, named after the short grain’s home region in Italy. The pearlescent rice undergoes less milling so it retains its starchiness. As it cooks, its starches release and form a chewy, creamy rice. 

Risotto is one of those stick-to-your-ribs foods that leaves you feeling fulfilled. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. That’s why I chose it. I want that feeling for Rosalyn. I want that feeling for myself. 


I call my uncle-chef, Uncle Jim, for advice ahead of that third Monday. He tells me what he learned when he traveled to Italy to cook with Marcella Hazan. “She said the perfect risotto takes seventeen minutes. Once those onions are translucent, not brown, add garlic. When you can smell the garlic, add in the Arborio rice. I like to stir it around so every grain gets coated in oil. Then, start with the stock.” As he’s talking I remember to keep a pot of simmering vegetable stock on the back burner. Uncle Jim adds over the phone, “Ladle the stock in three or four batches. Then, get to stirring.” “Anything else?” 

“Yes I almost forgot,” He lowers his voice to a serious register. “And you must remember this.” 


“Stir the rice in one direction.” 

This must be an ancient culinary secret. “Why?” 

“So you don’t confuse the risotto!” 

He laughs, wishes me luck, and asks for food pics later. 

Rosalyn’s from Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if poblanos are big there, but where I’m from in North Texas, the smell of roasted poblanos is a core memory. I want to share that piece of Texas with her, so I roast three poblanos on my smoking-hot cast iron, fire alarm

unplugged, until every part of the pepper is blackened save for the stem. I take them off the grill and trap them in a covered bowl to steam. A few minutes later, I rub the blackened skins off the peppers to reveal their forest-green smoky flesh. I cut the tops off, dust out all the seeds, and cut the poblano skins into strips, then across into a small dice. I store them and go to sleep dreaming of creamy risotto and the joy I hope it brings. 

It’s Monday. Rosalyn’s on her way. I have my stock on the back burner. I have my poblanos ready to throw in at the end. I add a diced onion to medium-heat olive oil and lightly salt to draw out the onion’s moisture. Once the onions are translucent, not brown, I add the garlic like Uncle Jim said. Rosalyn’s texting me, trying to find my building. I take the onions and garlic off the heat, find her, and invite her up. 

The first thing I notice is Rosalyn’s smile, a wide plain of pearly teeth. She smiles genuinely. She leans against the kitchen island, noshing on grilled whole wheat bread with za’atar marinated artichoke hearts on top. 

In the pot, it’s time to add the rice. I coat the grains in oil. I add a ladle of stock and get to stirring, mindful to go in one direction. 

“Wow, you’re really stirring that,” Rosalyn razzes me. I am flexing and I am caught. She tucks a lock of her sandy hair behind her ear that says she doesn’t seem to mind. I stir in the poblanos until they’re warmed through. I make a bowl for Rosalyn, garnishing the top of the creamy, poblano-speckled risotto with a handful of crispy shiitake mushrooms. Rosalyn clasps her hands. I can tell the care I put into this meal makes her feel special. She leans forward to waft in that smoky poblano smell I hoped she’d like. I ask her to dig in as I make a bowl for myself. I hear mmm’s in between her bites. After a bowlful, we skip dessert. 

I learn Rosalyn likes Maggie Rogers and St. Vincent, and being kissed on the forehead. She leaves the door wide open to continue the conversation as she pees. I’m charmed by that. 

I feel a familiar fear of rejection creep in. After Rosalyn gets her PhD, she and Odie will leave Texas. Meaning best case scenario, we have a limited number of Monday nights left. I lay next to her and wonder if this isn’t already our last Monday, and we don’t know it yet. 

My thoughts grow existential. What will it feel like to be rejected again? Am I doomed to be right back where I started, swiping on apps? I’m 32. What’s wrong with me? I inhale, sharply. 

“What’s on your mind right now?” 


“I’m savoring,” Two things can be true at the same time.

What’s also true is I accept and actually enjoy these fleeting moments of dating, even if they don’t add up to a relationship. I don’t need another person to make me whole anymore. What the hell am I saying, of course I do! 

Cooking this meal for Rosalyn reminded me of something I think I’ve forgotten since my last relationship. I’m a romantic. I want love that develops low and slow and sticks to my ribs. 

In the meantime, I’m gonna keep stirring in one direction, trying not to confuse the risotto.