Risotto is one of those dishes that many people shy away from making because they find the task daunting. I know that on several competitive cooking shows it is known as ‘the dish of death’ but really, I don’t think risotto deserves this sort of bad press. It can be a super quick dinner on a week night so be sure to file this recipe in your ‘done in under an hour’ dinner folder. Many times, I’ll just use arborio rice and some sort of vegetable. Peas and roasted Asparagus are my favourites. If I have left over chicken in the fridge or some fresh prawns I’ll add those as proteins. The best thing about risotto is that it is versatile.
To start your own basic risotto, pick up a bag of short grained Arborio or Carnarolli rice and either some home made chicken stock or the kind that comes out of a box. Let’s be honest here, this is a quick dinner and unless you have previously made stock frozen in your freezer, swallow your pride and pick it off a shelf in the grocery store just like the rest of us. What matters most is that you heat the stock separately so that it is warm when you add it to the rice. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a saucepan and then about 1 1/4 cups of rice. Stir until all the rice is coated with oil and the rice is warmed up. Next, take that left over white wine (leftover wine?!) and add a couple spashes ‘around the pot’, maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Let it cook down into the rice and then add your first bit of warmed stock so that the rice is just covered. On low/medium heat let the stock simmer slowly away (with intermittent stirring) until there is only a bit left and then add more of the same amount of stock. Repeat until your box of stock runs out. If you try a grain of rice and it is still hard and a bit chalky, you can add hot water until it is ready. You want your grains of rice to be individuals but also part of the whole dish, meaning you should have some stock left so that it makes it’s own sauce.
What I’ve described above is a very basic risotto. 95% of the time I’ll saute some onions before I add the rice to the oil and I’ll stir in some grated Parmesan when the risotto is just finished. If using peas and/or leftover chicken I’ll usually add them when I add the last portion of stock to the pan. Prawns should be sauteed first, then added to the finished risotto. You can add some sliced spring onions at the end, or not but do be sure to season well with salt and pepper.
To roast asparagus: Cut washed stalks into inch long pieces and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add a clove or two of minced garlic. Roast in 400 F oven for about 12 minutes.
There are so many ways you could have your risotto. If you are doing a seafood risotto, throw a little saffron into the cooking rice and finish with some lemon juice. If you’re doing a mushroom risotto you can cook the mushrooms and onions together or roast the mushrooms and add later for more flavour. This is a great time to use some dried mushrooms (did someone say morels?) to make an out of this world risotto. My favourite way to have risotto is with truffles. Duh. Once in a while I’ll find some truffle paste or salt and add that with some herbs while the risotto is cooking. The above risotto is a truffled risotto finished with some black truffle oil we brought back from Australia. Finally, if you happen to just have some truffles handy then shave away while the risotto is piping hot. You want just enough heat so that the truffle releases it’s full flavour.
I have also experimented with making risotto in the oven. It turns out quite a bit drier and with a different texture. The only time I make risotto in the oven is when I want to use it the next day to make Arancini, but that is a whole other post for another time.
I do really hope you give making risotto a try. I hope it turns out for you but remember if it doesn’t work, try it again. It’s a dish worth mastering.