As if living in Sarasota and participating in its arts scene isn’t enough, Dr. Joseph Holt and his partner, Paco Martinez-Alvarez, just renovated their home, including a brand new kitchen and a few extra rooms that weren’t there when the house was built in 1931.
“We’ve always had a kitchen that was separated from the rest of the house,” Holt says, referring mainly to their home in the Washington, D.C., area where they lived for more than 20 years while he was the pianist for the United States Army Chorus.
“A kitchen is the heart of a home, and we wanted the renovation to create a warm, inviting space, not only for preparation and cooking, but also for the social time spent with family and friends,” he says.
Even though the original kitchen was remodeled in the ’70s, all the appliances were dated and the house had wood paneling on the walls. So, they lightened up the space and put in stone countertops and a central island for chopping and preparing meals for their musical friends.
Holt, who looks and acts too young to have been in the service all those years, is the primary cook in the family. Martinez-Alvarez is a lawyer who works with non-profit organizations. He is originally from Puerto Rico, but the two of them have done a lot of international travel so their tastes in food are eclectic.
The same can be said of their musical tastes.
“I’m highly influenced by certain music when I’m in the kitchen, particularly if we’re listening to something Latin,” Holt said. “Music from Puerto Rico can be quite rhythmic and energetic, as well as expressive. The highly charged rhythm of salsa is infectious.”
And how his music-making has influenced his cooking?
“As a musician, the musical score is a blueprint for performing a piece,” he says. “However, the same piece of music will sound different when it’s performed by different people. The indications for ingredients and cooking directions are a blueprint for preparing a dish. In my case, I use the recipe as a jumping off point for experimentation. I tinker with a recipe as much as I tinker with a piece of music, trying different things until it feels right.
“Remember that old adage, ‘practice makes perfect’? One summer I was trying out all sorts of recipes for wild mushroom risotto. I became obsessed with making it perfect, as much as I would practice a piece of music on the piano over a long period of time. After a couple of months of working with the recipe, Paco finally suggested— politely — that maybe I should try something else. He was getting tired of so much risotto!”
On April 2, Holt will conduct a program that includes music from the classical period (Haydn’s setting of “The Seven Last Words of Christ”), and the early 20th century (Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs”) in a performance at the Sarasota Opera House that will feature the all-professional singers of Gloria Musicae with members of the Sarasota Orchestra, Met Opera mezzo Leah Wool, Sarasota soprano Michelle Giglio, Matthew Heil of the U.S. Army Chorus and Marilyn Horne Foundation winner (and Vaughan Williams specialist) baritone Marcus DeLoach.
Because music and food go hand-in-hand for Holt, there will be a post-concert reception in the courtyard of the Opera House, so everyone who attends will be treated to great music inside and excellent champagne, cheese, canapés and luscious desserts outside.
There will not be any risotto served on that occasion, but you can prepare Holt’s now-perfected dish using the recipe at right.
Joseph Holt’s Wild Mushroom Risotto
Start to finish: 45 minutes; Serves 4
1 large box of stock, vegetable or chicken, low-sodium (or three to four cans)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound assorted mushrooms (golden chanterelle, shiitake, crimini, oyster, porcini, and/or portabello), chopped
1 medium-sized white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon truffle butter or mushroom sauce with truffles (found in specialty stores)
Pinch of sea salt
2 cups arborio rice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups dry white wine (Pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
Freshly grated Asiago cheese
1 cup heavy cream
• Bring stock to a gentle boil and turn the heat down to low (maintain moderate heat in the stock).
• Put a large skillet on high heat for one minute, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and turn down to medium. Add onions, salt and pepper, and sauté until opaque. Add garlic and sauté an additional minute. Add mushrooms, stir as necessary, five minutes over medium heat. Once the mushrooms have cooked through and reduced, add red wine and deglaze the pan. Add truffle sauce, stir to incorporate, and remove mixture from heat. Reserve in a separate bowl.
• Put the same skillet back on high heat for 30 seconds and add 3 tablespoons olive oil (don’t worry if there are bits of mushroom mixture in the pan). Turn heat down to medium and add the arborio rice, sauté until the rice kernels start to turn a slightly dark opaque shade (about one to two minutes). Stir constantly to coat all rice with the olive oil. Add white wine and deglaze the pan, stirring constantly.
• From this point forward, you will need to stir the rice mixture until done. Otherwise, the rice will become a sticky mess. Once the wine has been mostly incorporated into the rice, add a cup of warm stock and mix thoroughly. Keep stirring. Once the stock has been incorporated (approximately one to two minutes), add another cup. Keep stirring, rotating the rice around the pan. You never want the mixture to dry completely — it should always be a little wet. Repeat this procedure until the rice is almost done (it will be slightly firm but not crunchy), approximately 15 to 20 minutes. If necessary, add more stock or water to the pot and bring to a boil. You always want to add the stock when it’s heated, never cold or tepid.
• Once the rice is almost completely cooked, add the mushroom mixture into the skillet — liquid and all. Stir to incorporate. Add cream and freshly grated Asiago cheese. Continue to stir until liquid has been mostly absorbed (risotto is a wet rice dish, not completely dry).
• Serve immediately — risotto will thicken if you let it sit. Accompany with salad and thick crusty Italian bread. For a variation on this recipe, add veal pieces (slightly cooked with the mushroom mixture).
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