Chef/Owner Mike Tusk of Quince is a quiet, smart, force in the kitchen. I first got to know Mike when we teamed up for a cooking demonstration and wine dinner at the new Cavallo Point in Marin County 7 or 8 years ago. He modestly walked a group through how to make and roll gnocchi blithely unaware that the result of his efforts would look nothing like what we would get at home when we tried. Mike’s food speaks for itself. It is based in Italy with strong California input yet reveals influences from all over the world. His accolades come from every corner as well: Two Michelin stars, 4 stars from our local food critic, respect from everyone in the food world. I once bought a Middleton vegetable knife from “a guy” (turns out it was Quintin Middleton, the actual maker) at a midnight BBQ simply because Mike said this was legit steel at a crazy good price. Oh yeah, Mike also is knowledgeable about art and loves to collect things of beauty. I teamed up with Mike again to auction off two dinners at last year’s Meals on Wheels Auction in San Francisco. The very generous winners purchased a 5-course meal prepared by Mike paired with Peay wines from our library. The first dinner was held this past fall to celebrate the winner’s sister’s 50th birthday. It was a wonderful evening. Mike was in the kitchen managing the preparation while his sous chef manned the stove. He was modest and in command but not over-bearing and his dishes (I stole a few bites while standing in the kitchen) were well-balanced and delicious. I was a little disappointed, however, that Mike had not served his risotto. He is famous for his risotto and I order it every time I dine at Quince. So, instead, I asked for his recipe. Try the version below when the nettles come up in the next few months. If you cannot find fresh porcini use chanterelles or other wild mushrooms.
Serves 4 -6
1 quart wild nettles, stems removed
8 T unsalted butter
2 cups porcini mushrooms, slice thinly
1 lb white asparagus
1 ½ cups minced leek, white only
1 3/4 cup Aquarello Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup white wine
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
4 T unsalted butter
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 lb sea scallops, sliced into thin rounds and made into rosettes on parchment paper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat stock and when at a rolling boil add in the nettles, cook until tender, remove with a slotted spoon. Shock in ice water and wring out any moisture with a kitchen towel. Pound the nettle in a mortar and pestle with a little olive oil or puree in a blender, using a little stock until it is smooth. Season with a little salt and keep covered at room temperature. Keep the stock at a simmer.
Heat a stainless steel or copper saucepan and add 4 Tablespoons of butter and sauté the porcini mushrooms until tender, season gently and reserve. Add the white asparagus and cook until tender and set aside with the porcini. In the same pan which is now perfumed with the porcini and white asparagus add the remaining 4 Tablespoons of butter and melt. Add the leeks and cook until tender, add a bit of water if necessary to prevent the leeks from browning. When the leeks are softened add the rice. Coat the rice with the butter and toast the rice over medium heat for about 4 minutes.
Add the white wine and continue stirring until the wine is evaporated. Set a timer for fifteen minutes to correctly time the stock additions. Gently heat the porcini mushroom-white asparagus ragout and keep warm.
Add the stock a ladle at a time, stirring continuously until each addition of stock has evaporated. When the timer goes off the rice should be tender but still al dente. Add the nettle puree and heat until the nettle is fully incorporated into the risotto, no more than two minutes. Pull the risotto off the heat and let rest for 45 seconds. Flash the scallops rosettes in the oven to barely warm, about a minute. Keep warm while you finish the risotto.
Finish the rice by adding the butter and cheese, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Ladle the rice onto warm dinner plates, place the scallop rosette on top and then finish by spooning the porcini mushroom-white asparagus mixture in the center. Garnish with fried nettles, if desired. Serve immediately.