When I think of risotto, I think of a creamy, steamy hot, stewy bowl of rice that is the savory cousin of rice pudding. When made well, is is amazingly delicious, perfect on a rainy day. However, the first time I read the instructions for cooking a risotto, I thought the cookbook author must have been crazy. I was expected to add a ladle of broth to the rice every 5 minutes, stirring constantly, for 30-40 minutes! I checked my other cookbooks to confirm this step, and much to my disappointment, there seemed to be no easier way. I eventually attempted a few risottos before culinary school, but they were nothing like what I had eaten at restaurants and not really worth the effort.
Over the course of the past 5 months, I have become quite familiar with the technique in class and will share some valuable tips. Risotto takes time. It takes some patience. But if done correctly, every bite will be worth it.
We cooked food from the Lombardia region of Italy today, where rice and risotto are the carbohydrate of choice. That’s right – here pasta takes second place. They grow arborio, vialone nan, and carnoli rices here. Arborio rice is the most commonly for risotto used here in the U.S. and is supposedly the easiest to cook with. These are all medium to short grain varieties of rice with a special starchy coating that makes them perfect for making creamy risotto. To be true to the Lombardia regional cooking, we stirred Gorgonzola cheese, cream, and parsley into the risotto at the end of cooking. Yum!
- Use a large heavy saucepan. Select one with curved edges at the base if you have it.
- Heat your liquid to a simmer before you begin cooking the rice.
- Increase liquid by at least two cups more than the recipe calls for to prevent running out.
- Rest a ladle nearby for use during cooking (4 Oz is best).
- Pour glass of wine, keep within reach.
- Melt butter or oil over medium low heat.
- Add a small amount of finely chopped onions. Cook until soft, not brown.
- Stir in the dry rice and cook for 2-3 minutes to coat all the grains.
- Begin adding ladles of your simmering liquid into the pot – 2 ladles the first time, then one by one.
- You should add a ladle every time the rice absorbs most of the liquid, but not all.
- During the first 15 minutes, stir continuously (stir speed doesn’t matter).
- Do not let the risotto boil aggressively or get dry.
- Maintain your risotto at a simmer.
- Don’t forget to sip your wine.
- After you are about half way, you can switch your stirring to frequently. Continue adding ladles of liquid and keeping the risotto moist. You will be adding liquid less frequently by now.
- Refill wine if necessary.
- After 25 minutes, begin seasoning the risotto with salt to taste (unless you are using store-bought broth with salt and checking the consistency with little bites.
- You do not need to use all of the cooking liquid.
- Risotto is done when it is no longer hard or crunchy, but soft with a little bite – al dente.
- When the risotto is done, stir in any other flavoring ingredients for a minute to heat, and serve.
- If you are not serving your risotto right away, add a bit more liquid at the end than you would otherwise. This prevents the risotto from drying up upon sitting.
- When reheating risotto, always add some more liquid or water (your refrigerator will dry it out).
- Simplest flavorings are grated cheese, fresh herbs, and/or sauteed mushrooms.
Risotto is hard work, I always keep that in mind when ordering at restaurants now. At home, practice makes perfect. Risottos make creamy bowls of comfort and are well worth the effort! Dress it up for an elegant and impressive entree, or keep it simple for a first course or side dish.
Like all rice it is a low-fat grain with B vitamins. Use cooking fat in moderation during preparation. Risotto is great with either diced, roasted winter squash or sauteed mushrooms stirred in. Both can add to the nutritional value. Stirring in a small amount of grated cheese Parmesan Reggiano is also nice. The more aged and strong the cheese, the less you need to use, and the fewer calories and fat is will add to a dish. Minced herbs like parsley also add color and flavor without calories or fat.
I hope I have inspired you to pull out your cookbooks and find that risotto recipe you have been waiting to cook. Serve it with a side salad and you have a delicious and healthy meal. Buon appetito!