Spring Grove's Dan Hartwig makes orzo 'risotto'
On a golfing trip eight years ago to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, Dan Hartwig scored big, but not on the links.
At a nearby outlet mall he found a 14-inch, stainless steel, Farberware skillet with heavy-duty bottom and lid. Known thereafter as The Big Pan, it is several inches deep and equipped with a helper handle for transferring Dan's popular rack of lamb, steaks Siciliano and sausage and peppers from stove top to oven.
"We had rented a furnished condo with our best friends, and the cookware was terrible," he says. The group had purchased some fresh shrimp, in season, and Dan needed a decent pan for sauteing.
"I saw this thing on clearance and thought, 'I can cook anything in this.'"
Since then Dan has packed up said pan for fishing trips to Canada, where he and his wife, Barb, rent cottages stocked with cookware of dubious quality.
For travel, Dan removes the handle, fills the pan with herbs and spices and bungi-cords the lid to the bottom.
"I never know what I'm going to get stuck with, some dented-up tin pan; and this one I can put on the grill" for cooking up all those Canadian fish.
Dan worked as a barker for 22 years but retired 12 years ago when chronic tendinitis of the elbows took him out of the game. He has been a real estate agent ever since, living in Spring Grove with Barb, a teacher and girls golf coach at Mundelein High School.
Dan does virtually all the cooking at home, including such weeknight meals as chicken fajitas and avocado salad, pasta primavera or pork tenderloin marinated in rosemary, garlic and lemon.
Though he's officially only half Italian, Dan's cooking often is inspired by that strand of his DNA. He grew up next door to his great-aunt and two great-uncles from the old country, and was deeply influenced by Great Aunt Minnie's marinara.
Today he gives us his version, seasoned with fresh and dried herbs, sweetened with a healthy dose of brown sugar and finished with a little heavy cream.
Dan loves hosting dinner parties, too, inviting eight to 12 people and serving multiple courses, like pancetta-wrapped figs with blue cheese, roasted tomato and balsamic soup and his signature root beer barbecue glaze on ribs or chicken, or his orzo risotto, cooked in The Big Pan.
"There have probably been over 40 different people who have taken turns stirring the risotto in that pan," says Dan. "I explain to guests that in an Italian kitchen you must help, thus melding even more love into the meal."
Though the dish is typically made with rice, Dan prefers using rice-shaped pasta because it holds up longer on a buffet table in a chafing dish.
"It stays fluid where the rice just gets gummy," he says.
With any leftovers, Dan adds more cheese to the mixture, rolls it into balls, coats them in milk, egg and seasoned flour and deep-fries the ultrarich mixture, in The Big Pan, of course.
"I paid more for the three dozen golf balls I lost on that trip than I did for the pan," he says. "It was a fun vacation, but if you add up the laughs we have had with friends and family while I was cooking over that pan, it is priceless."
- Laura Bianchi