Trompe l’oeil paintings have a long history within the realm of the visual arts. The French phrase translates to ‘trick the eye’ and it dates back to the Roman era, where it was used to create doors and windows within highly detailed murals. An ancient Greek story recounts a competition between the rivals Zeuxis and Parrhasius, the former painting grapes that appeared so tangible that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them. Parrhasius’ painting won the competition – Zeuxis asked to have the tattered curtains drawn aside to view the painting only to realise that the painting was of the curtains themselves.

De Scott Evans, A new variety try one, c.1890
oil on canvas, 30.4 x 25.4 cm, Columbus Museum of Art

De Scott Evans was an American artist, born in 1847 and educated at Miami University. He later moved to the midwest and began painting trompe l’oeil still lifes that were popular at the time. Although it was not a new artistic tradition, Evans incorporated fine brushstrokes with a bit of humor, evident in A new variety try one as well as the similar painting, Free Sample Take One. Evans signed his paintings with a number of aliases including S.S. David as illustrated above. The detail in the wood grain coupled with the illusion of the broken glass and paper note inviting the audience to try a nut, complete the artifice and frame the nuts, giving them depth as they project into the viewer’s space.

Baked Risotto with a Walnut Parmesan Crust

I particularly enjoy recipes that can be cobbled together with the odds and ends of my pantry and cheese drawer. Risotto rice is a very handy ingredient because it only takes a little bit to feed many people. I only eat meat on weekends and am always looking for interesting ways to incorporate nuts into my diet for a bit of protein. The crunch from the walnut crust provides the perfect contrast to the extra creamy risotto.

{Baked Risotto with a Walnut Parmesan Crust}

This warming, winter recipe is a hearty and filling vegetarian option for dinner. Delicious when reheated, will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and can be easily adapted to use almonds instead of walnuts.

Yield: 6 servings

2 shallots
1 clove garlic
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups aborio rice
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Persian Feta
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Finely chop the shallots and garlic. In a small saucepan begin to heat the chicken stock over medium heat. In a larger oven-proof dish, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat.

Saute the shallots and garlic about 2 to 3 minutes in the butter until they are soft and begin to brown. Add the aborio rice and toast until the bottom of the pot is dry, about 1 minute. Add the red wine vinegar and stir until all liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Begin incorporating the hot chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring often, about 2 to 3 minutes between ladles of stock

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat until they become fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Finely chop the walnuts. Add to a small bowl and while they are still warm, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and pour over the nuts. Add 1/3 cup of of the Parmesan cheese and mix together well until a clumpy mixture forms.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Once the rice has fully absorbed all of the chicken stock, add the remaining Parmesan cheese, feta, fresh black pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and top with the walnut/ Parmesan crumble. Slide the pot into the oven for about 5 minutes until the top is golden and crisp. Serve immediately.

Notes: Be sure to use Persian Feta, it is much creamer than normal feta and melts into the risotto. Measure the 1/2 c of walnuts after they are finely chopped, not before. I find Parmesan cheese salty enough so I didn’t add any extra.

Baked Risotto with a Walnut Parmesan Crust