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The Art of Cooking

Paul Locatelli, S.J.I learned to cook from my mother. In Boulder Creek we had some very rainy days, so the kids would be stuck inside the house with her on Sundays, and I would help her prepare the food—make the pasta, make the sauce, and learn how to put it all together.

At first I enjoyed doing it just because it was something to do, but after you learn a little bit about cooking, you discover it’s an art more than a science. Cookbooks are only something to look at to get ideas. After scanning a recipe, you have to become an artist to select and mix all the ingredients together in such a way that the final outcome tastes delicious.

I felt I became artistic sometime around high school. From time to time, I would end up cooking for the seven people in my Boulder Creek family: myself, my two brothers, my mother and father, and my aunt and uncle. I still didn’t make the pasta, but I helped. The most fun for me was working on ravioli with my mother, and making the sauce. Another favorite was pesto, because there are so many variations that you can be really creative.

I was lucky in that I did not have to give up cooking when I became a Jesuit. A couple of us used to cooperate in feeding our fellow novices on “villa” days. And these were big feasts. In those days, we had 80 or 90 Jesuit novices in the California Province. Later in our Jesuit formation, such as when we got to Berkeley for theology studies, we started cooking in smaller communities. Cooking then became an act of self-preservation. Now I get to cook only about once every six weeks; either at friends’ homes or at the Jesuit villa in Ben Lomond.

But I’m not really a gourmet. Food for me is nothing more than bringing people together to share friendship, fun, conversation, and a glass of good red wine. I primarily cook Italian food because I’m most familiar with it. But there are innovations on the recipes I learned, some adjustments. In fact I don’t know how Italian some of the things I cook finally are.

The one dish I find the most interesting and challenging to make is the risotto featured in the recipe here. There’s a balance of flavors as well as cooking time. And again, you have a lot of variations on risotto. You can put more emphasis on mushrooms. You can add arugula to it, or different things like asparagus or chunks of chicken. But the balance of the right flavors, and the right amount of cooking time, especially in the last 10 minutes, is really critical. You either end up with mush or you end up with risotto.

Mange bene!

Risotto alla Mama Locatelli


  • 1 to 2 quarts meat broth
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • About 5 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • About 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion or shallots
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 1/3 teaspoon powdered saffron (if available), dissolved in 1/2 cups hot broth or water
  • 6 to 8 fresh mushrooms, chopped (more mushrooms may be used)
  • Salt, if necessary
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly grated Parmesan for topping


  1. Bring broth to a slow, steady simmer.
  2. In a separate heavy 3-quart pot, add 3 tablespoons butter and all the oil. Over medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic until onion becomes translucent. Add rice and stir until well-coated. Sauté rice, onion, and garlic lightly for a minute or so, then add 1/2 cup simmering broth; cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed. As rice dries out, add another 1/2 cup simmering broth; continue to cook, stirring. Add broth as needed for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly to cook rice evenly and prevent it from hardening and sticking to bottom of pot.
  3. Add half the saffron-broth mixture. When rice begins to dry out, add remainder of saffron. (The later the saffron is added, the stronger its taste and aroma.) When saffron broth has been absorbed, continue cooking risotto, adding hot broth as needed.
    (If you run out of broth, add water.)
  4. Add mushrooms; continue cooking and stirring. Correct heat is very important in making risotto—a slow simmer is ideal. Risotto is ready when the rice is tender and moist but al dente. Taste to determine if salt is needed; the beef broth is usually sufficiently salty. Add a few twists of pepper to taste, and turn off heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Spoon onto a hot platter or into individual bowls; offer more freshly grated Parmesan as topping.
<h6>Fr. Locatelli's Favorite Recipes</h6>

In the mood for pasta, frittata, or the famous beer-can chicken? Find more presidential specialties on Locatelli's Web site.

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