Risotto is the ultimate one-pot, simple, and fast meal. Everything cooks in one pot; a cook can create as many versions as they want; and it can be impressive for a dinner party and comforting for a family meal. Once you master the basic method, risotto is never more than 20 minutes away from start to finish.
Originating in the northern section of Italy, risotto starts with round short/medium-grain white rice with high starch content. Carnaroli and Arborio are two most popular in the United States though there are other varieties in Italy. This type of rice has the ability to absorb liquid, remain “al dente” (firm to the tooth), and release enough starch to bind the grains together in a creamy sauce. Long-grain rice will never do.
The basic method for making risotto does not change. While there, are some recipes and boxed “risotto,” mixes that offer no-stirring risottos, these recipes make a nice rice dish; but they do not produce a traditional risotto. Stirring makes a good risotto. Stirring helps to agitate the rice in the stock to release the rice’s starch, which is key to giving the dish it’s characteristic creaminess. The chances are great that the recipes and the box-mixes rely of thickeners that are not in a traditional risotto: cream, modified cornstarch, rice powder, and/or lecithin. So skip all of that and just follow the basic method.
• sauté aromatics in olive oil and butter
• add rice, coat in oil, butter and aromatics
• add wine, reduce until completely absorbed
• ladle in hot stock (chicken, vegetable, or seafood) one cup at a time
• remove from heat just as last cup of stock is being absorbed
• add additional butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, stirring to help create the “creamy” sauce
• serve immediately
At it’s best, risotto is thick and creamy yet still loose and saucy with each rice grain cooked separately. The rice should be firm to the tooth and still soft but never mushy. The best results began with the best ingredients, so make sure to buy a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and not the pre-shredded or grated stuff. If you don’t have homemade chicken or vegatable stock, which is always better, buy quality low sodium bouillon cubes and reconstitute the amount needed with a sprig of fresh herbs and a bay leaf.
Heavy cream, mascarpone, or cream cheese has no place in a risotto. Combined with the starch from the rice, these will make the risotto heavy and dull the favors that you have worked to build. The creaminess will come from stirring the rice during cooking, maintained and smoothed out with the addition of the cheese and butter. The other rule of thumb is that if the risotto contains seafood than it should not contain cheese as Italian cuisine dictates that cheese offends the taste and smell of seafood.
My Recipe: SWISS CHARD and SUNDRIED TOMATO RISOTTO serves 4 generously
1 c Caranoli or Arborio rice
2 T olive oil
4 T butter, cut into small cubes and divided
1 small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely minced (optional)
½ c white wine
3 c hot stock (chicken or vegetable), more if necessary
1 c shredded Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Pandano
½ c sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 – 3 c swiss chard, washed and dried
kosher salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
Place stock in a saucepan; bring to a boil; and lower to a simmer
Remove the greens from the white stalk of the swiss chard; cut stalk into medium dice and set aside; roughly shred the greens and set aside
Heat a large sauté pan or deep skillet over medium-high heat; add olive oil and 2 T of cubed butter; sauté onion and garlic until onion becomes translucent without browning; add diced white stalk of the swiss chard and cook for another minute
Add rice; stir until all grains are coated in the oil-butter mixture
Add white wine; stir until all of the wine is evaporated; approximately a minute
Add the first ladle, about 1 cup, of hot stock; reduce heat to medium; gently stir constantly until the rice absorbs the stock and the pan is almost dry; repeat process with one more cup of stock
Right after adding the third ladle of hot stock, add the sundried tomato and swiss chard greens to the pan; stirring to fully incorporate into the risotto
Remove pan from stove BEFORE the final ladle of stock completely absorbs; continue stirring; add cold butter cubes slowly and continue stirring; add ¾ c shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and continue stirring to develop the “creamy sauce”
Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary
Serve immediately with additional Parmigiano Reggiano at the table
Risotto transcends all seasons. Since the method and the base ingredients (rice, wine, stock, butter, olive oil, and Parmigiano Reggiano) are all the same, you can make the dish seasonal by adding seasonal produce. In the winter, make a plain risotto and serve it in place of mashed potatoes with braised meat or roasted chicken. In the spring, add fresh new green peas, artichokes, a mix of sautéed baby vegetables, or fava beans. In the summer, add grilled eggplant, corn, or peppers. In the fall, add roasted cubes of butternut squash or sautéed mushrooms drizzling with truffle oil just after plating (pictured below). Truffle oil is optional though highly encouraged if you love mushrooms.
All meats and seafood work well in risotto…. Though, honestly, I much rather prefer those that highlight a vegetable and I almost always serve it as a main course at home.
always In good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!