OKAY. As promised (to the 3 friends who currently read my little blog), my first recipe post. I apologize in advance for A) the unorthodox style of my recipe writing and B) the fact that this isn’t a Weight Watchers or even a particularly healthy recipe. It is clean, whole foods-based, and delicious, however, and it will hopefully either demystify what some claim to be a really difficult dish to master, or give you some new ideas to break out of your “lemon-pea-parsley” risotto rut.
The fact of the matter is that risotto is not simply an Italian comfort food, but serves as a fantastic one-pot meal with Southern influence in my family. Arborio rice is a pantry staple of mine, and I rarely “plan” to make risotto for dinner. It’s usually out of a “hmm…these veggies are going to go bad if I don’t use them soon” kind of observation, or when I realize that all of my reliable proteins are frozen and I don’t feel like defrosting. As long as I have Arborio rice, stock, and wine (and rarely am I out of any of those), I can throw together a risotto. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not even that labor intensive, and since you do have to stay nearby to check your progress, it’s a great weeknight meal because you can clean your kitchen while you are cooking. When you are done it’s one pot, and however many bowls and spoons as there are people in your family. BOOM!
So, before we begin: here are my keys to risotto success.
- Rice is important. Arborio, specifically. I don’t trust people that make risotto out of barley or quinoa or whatever else buzz-grain is around at the moment. Don’t do it! (Sidenote: there are other varieties of traditional Italian rice that are more difficult to find like Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, but I haven’t gone out of my way to find them so I stick with Arborio.)
- Warm your stock. This was the one true key to making a more perfect and authentic version of risotto for me. Having your stock at the same temp also lessons the time it takes your rice to absorb it.
- Equipment is personal preference. I use a Dutch oven and a Bamboo spoon similar to the traditional wooden spoon with a hole in it. A wider bottom is preferable over a narrow, deep well.
- WINE. Because everything is better with wine.
- Follow the method: fat, rice, aromatics, wine, stock, stock, stock, other veggies, remove, cheese, top, serve.
Beyond that, this is a simple base recipe for preparing risotto in general, with some of my more successful “twists” below to give you inspiration. I highly encourage you to do as I do, though, and clean out your vegetable drawer, use the herbs in your garden, and have fun!
3/4 cup dry arborio rice
1 T Olive Oil (other fat ideas: butter, bacon grease, etc.)
Finely diced/chopped Aromatics (some combo of garlic, onion, shallots, celery, carrots, etc.) I guess you want this to be somewhere b/t .5-1 cups
A cup-ish of wine (traditionally white***)
16-32 Oz of stock/broth (chicken is my standard, but veggie and beef work. I normally heat the whole 32oz carton)
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese (traditionally, you can get creative here, too)
Step one: put your stock in a pot on the stove, bring it up to a quick simmer, then dial the heat down to 2-3 to keep it warm.
Step two: heat your “fat” in a dutch oven over medium heat (if using meat fats, slowly render 1-2 slices of bacon or other fatty meats in your pot first, then remove them to a plate).
Step three: pour in your rice, stir to coat with the fat, and let it simmer for just a moment.
Step four: add the aromatics to the party, stir to coat, and keep your heat on the low side of medium. Let cook for a few minutes (the onions are a good thing to watch here, once they are translucent, you are good). If you use dried herbs, this is where to add them.
Step five: WINE TIME! Pour it in, stir, and then let it simmer until mostly evaporated.
Step six: Once your wine is mostly absorbed, begin adding your stock. I use a large soup ladle, and add 1-2 ladles in the beginning and 2-3 towards the end of cooking. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t HAVE to stir constantly to get good risotto. You just want to give it a good stir when you add liquid to help it “spread” in the pot and cook more evenly. After that, you can go about your kitchen business and keep an eye out, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir, you are ready to add more liquid. It’s a feeling thing…you want it to be not soup, but not mac-and-cheese gluey, either. Taste it as you go along and get the firmness of the rice that you want. Obviously, you don’t want it to be hard or crunchy.
Step middle-of-six: add optional veggies. Popular here for easy weeknight recipes are mushrooms and green peas. They will cook beautifully in the time you have. To go more complicated than that (think asparagus or butternut squash), you want to pre-cook (blanch the asparagus, or parboil cubes of squash) your veggies so that they don’t release too much water into your risotto and become gluey.
Step eight: remove from heat. Add cheese and/or butter. Parmesan is traditional, but this is another cool place ripe for experimentation. Stir to combine, and serve, topping with fresh herbs, pepper, and /or any of those delicious fats your rendered in the first place.
And that’s it! Creamy deliciousness on a plate, or in a wide flat bowl as preferred at my house. Here are some unorthodox combos that my family has raved about recently.
***Bacon and Beet risotto. This came about one night when I really, really wanted risotto but only had red wine. I scoured my kitchen and thought…hmmm…why CAN’T you make risotto with a nice Carignan? While I’m sure there are purists who scoff, I think it’s pretty genius. I had beets. Beets are going to turn it red anyway, right? Voila! I roasted my beets ahead of time, started with bacon as my fat, and subbed red wine for white. My beets were then cubed and added towards the last steps of broth time. Even my 7 year old loves this version. I also sometimes wash and cut my beet greens, and add those in as well.
Last night’s Country Proscuitto and Leek version was a hit with my husband: we had some Prosciutto made in the NC mountains (ie: a cross b/t traditional Italian bacon and straight up salty country ham). I rendered that and removed it, proceeded with every member of the albom family I could find (garlic, shallots, leeks, onions), and added a bit of goat cheese with the Parmesan at the end. I topped it with the crunchy pieces of ham and a chiffonade of basil that I GREW MY OWN DAMN SELF. Like NC on a plate.
My favorite combo is the fall one: leeks, mushrooms, and butternut squash. Pure deliciousness on a plate.
Now you make a version and tell me what you put in your risotto!