Kitchen Basics – Risotto

Risotto is a Northern Italian rice dish, with a supremely rich, creamy consistency. This dish has a been given a bit of a bad reputation, because it has been deemed the diva of rice dishes. It is notorious for being a “time consuming” or “fussy” recipe to execute. Why?!

Risotto is actually quite easy. It only takes 30 minutes to make, and it doesn’t require any master chef-level kitchen skills outside of the ability to whisk. In fact, the add-ins can be purchased pre-chopped, which makes it even easier. When risotto is done the right way, it is totally worth the whisking time.

It is also a highly customizable dish, which is why it constitutes as a kitchen basic. It’s more of a method than a recipe, due to the versatility. It can be eaten as a side, or as a main meal, depending on what you’ve added to it. It can be the basis of a hearty vegetarian meal, or served on the side of a meaty dish. Risotto can be enjoyed all seasons of the year, because it takes on the flavor of any seasonal produce added to it.

I will be showing you basic step-by-step directions on how I create my own distinctively savory risotto, along with ideas and inspiration for additional add-ins.

Risotto

Make sure to have all of your ingredients pre-measured and chopped prior to starting this dish!

Serves 1-2 people/Yields approximately 3 cups cooked rice

Ingredients:
3 cups of broth or stock
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, medium or large diced
1 garlic clove, minced or grated
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Note: I use the frozen bagged peas rather than grocery store fresh/raw, because I don’t find it economical to use raw peas in this dish unless you have grown them yourself. I find that grocery store purchased raw peas in the pod are more time consuming and have turned starchy in flavor, compared to the sweet flavor of home grown fresh peas or flash-frozen peas
1/2 cup, or to taste, finely grated hard cheese, such as grana padano, or parmesan

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In a quart-sized sauce pan, warm the stock until it comes to just a gentle simmer. This means that the liquid should almost look like it is giggling…that is, if liquid could giggle. I am using my own salt-free home made turkey stock, which I created in a slow cooker last time I roasted a whole turkey. I keep bags of this stock stored in quart bags in my freezer, but I am not above using store-bought broth or stock. Just about any kind of stock or broth can be used for this dish. Just make sure it is one that isn’t too salty, because the liquid will reduce and condense as the rice cooks. This means that a generously salted stock might end up tasting a little too salty after cooking. Just don’t use plain water! You want this dish to be full of flavor!

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Add the butter and oil to a wide-bottomed sauté pan over medium-low heat, and stir until the butter has melted into the oil.

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Add the onion to the pan, and gently stir until the pieces of onion appear translucent. You’ll notice that I did not bother making the diced onion pieces uniform in size, because I rather enjoy finding rustic pieces of sweet sautéed onion in my creamy risotto.

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Add the garlic and arborio rice to the mixture, and stir until the rice is fragrant, slightly toasty, and golden.

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Carefully add one ladle full of the stock into the sauté pan. Whisk constantly until the liquid has been absorbed.

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When the stock looks like it has been absorbed, as pictured above, add another ladle full of stock. Continue slowly adding the stock ladle by ladle at a time, and whisking until the rice has absorbed each ladle full.

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Taste the rice after the last ladle full of the stock has been added, to see if the rice is softened. If not, heat up a little more stock to thin it and continue cooking. The rice is finished when each grain is soft with a slight bit of chew, or al dente, and the consistency resembles a thick porridge. Remember, the risotto will thicken as it cools, so don’t fret if it still appears a bit thin at this stage.

Also, check for seasoning. You will be adding salty cheese in the next step, so the salt level at this stage should determine how much or how little cheese is needed for flavoring.

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Turn off the heat. Add in the thawed frozen peas and grated cheese, and stir to warm through. I won’t judge you if you add more cheese than I have. Add more if you wish! I used a chunk of grana padano, which I managed to work to an almost powder-fine consistency in my food processor. No need for perfection here-small chunks of cheese are welcome in risotto.

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As you stir in the cheese and peas, the risotto will continue to thicken.

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Season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Other add-in ideas:
Saffron, soaked in the broth prior to adding to the rice
Steamed bite-sized broccoli florets
Diced cooked chicken, ham, or turkey
Pesto sauce
Diced roasted red pepper
Toasted pine nuts, sliced almonds, or chopped walnuts
Cooked garbanzo or white beans
Sliced mushrooms
Asparagus tips
Cut green beans
Artichoke hearts
Zucchini or any other seasonal squash, finely diced
Shredded carrots
Roasted eggplant
Pureed pumpkin-extra points if you garnish it with a light sprinkle of nutmeg, some crispy fried sage, and a swirl of browned butter
Crumbled and cooked Italian sausage
Roasted corn

Garnish/Topping ideas:
Chopped herbs, such as fresh basil, dill, or parsley
A drizzle of heavy cream
Chopped green onion
Crispy fried onion or shallot strings
Toasted breadcrumbs, to add a casserole-like crunch
Diced crispy bacon or pancetta
Breaded, fried calamari, popcorn shrimp, or fried chicken tenders-the juxtaposition in textures is divine
Grilled salmon, flaked
A sprinkle of citrus zest
A swirl of olive oil or melted butter
Sautéed shrimp
Crispy fried rosemary or sage
Chili pepper flakes
Fried mozzarella, halloumi, paneer, or goat cheese cubes
Italian spiced meatballs
Stewed tomatoes
Short ribs
Dollops of cream cheese
Medallions of cooked sausage
Cheese stuffed fried squash blossoms
Poached or fried egg

The versatility is endless. Tonight I’ll be binge watching Sex & The City episodes on Amazon Prime as I enjoy my risotto, paired with a fresh baby spinach, basil, and tomato salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. I plan to use the leftovers tomorrow as arancini. Arancini are stuffed rice balls, which are coated with breadcrumbs and fried until crispy.

xo

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