The Rio Urubamba carves a sharp canyon beneath Machu Picchu, a deceivingly calm slosh-and-gurgle coming from its general direction. A rickety bridge crosses to a derelict train station and open market where tourists don fanny packs and over-pay for miniature alpaca figurines, feeling like seasoned world travelers. My father and I find a shaded restaurant patio and chug our Cusquena lagers as alien gnats draw blood in perfect little dots on our ankles; we gaze upward, looking for the Lost Cities, talking about last night’s supper of guinea pig. A few minutes from then we would climb a dangerously steep set of stone stairs to check in at our tree-house hostel, home to what would be my first (and only and best) cooking class.
In a tree house kitchen beneath the behemoth Machu Picchu, my father and I learn to make quinoa risotto.
Now, this was a handful of years ago, before even a whisper of quinoa popularity in the United States. Whole Foods had yet to flood its shelves with the stuff. What had we done before quinoa?! The damn Incas were keeping the whole lot to themselves! And I could see why, that first night, as I stirred it into cream and broth, adding velvety mushrooms and sweet onion. Our instructor took us up to a darker corner of the restaurant, and we gorged ourselves on our creations, sipping wine and talking until the candles burned the length of their wicks, and the rain ceased its patter on the tin roof.
Quinoa is not rice. Therefore this can’t quite be called a risotto. Rice it may not be, but quinoa is a source of complete protein, has wondrous fiber, is high in iron and magnesium, and believe it or not is a true source of calcium. Oh, and its gluten free.
How lucky are we that something so versatile and healthy is so delicious!? Dreaming of Peru, I set out to make a summery quinotto…filled with sweet kernels of late-summer corn, succulent slow roasted tomatoes, and delicate cipollini onions.
Quinotto with Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Corn, and Cipollini Onions
6 medium sized tomatoes
1.5 cups quinoa
1.5 cups corn
3 cipollini onions
.5 – 1 tbsp butter (shhhh!)
Cheese for grating (I used pecorino)
Firstly, before anything, the tomatoes. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Slice your tomatoes length wise and lay them skin-side-down on the sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and a smidge of chili powder. Pop them in the oven and let them roast for 1.5-2 hours.
When your tomatoes are bout half way through roasting, you can probably start on your quinotto. Over medium heat, drizzle about 2 tbsp of olive oil in your pot and add the onions and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper. Just when the mix is turning golden brown, add your quinoa and toast for 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly. Next, add enough vegetable broth to cover the quinoa by about an inch, set the heat to low, and cover the pot. Steam the quinoa for 10 minutes or until cooked. Remove the lid; add your corn, butter, and 1 more cup of broth. Stir occasionally over low heat, until most of the liquid is gone and a light-but- creamy sauce remains. Take your tomatoes from the oven, slice, and add to the finished quinoa. Serve with fresh basil and grated pecorino cheese!