How to Cook A Risotto
Let’s talk risotto. Risotto is a fabulous culinary creation. Creamy and satisfying yet with a little bite, it has beautiful balance and engages well with many flavours. It is very simple to make and a wonderful dish to add to your culinary repertoire. I make it often either simply, minimalist style, or embellish it with seasonal vegetables and even fruits (think pears). I dedicated a whole chapter to it in my recent (unpublished) pasta book. I am going to offer a few recipes over the next few days before moving on to other foods. I will return to risotto later though. There are so many beautiful ways to prepare and serve it.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of cooking a risotto. It’s very simple. You melt some butter, add an aromatic or two, add the rice and stir to coat it with the butter and then start adding hot stock, a bit at a time, stirring, until the grains are cooked to your liking. Add a little butter and a handful of cheese when it’s done and that’s all there is to it.
There are, however, a couple of basic things you need to know. First, the type of rice you use is important. It has to be Arborio rice, small grain, fat, starchy rice that cooks al dente, leaving a gentle resistance in the center. You can experiment with different brands until you find the one the suits you but I can assure you that if you go to an Italian grocery store and pick a brand, you should be fine.
The second thing to know is that you add the liquid (stock) to the cooking rice slowly, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more. The amount of liquid you need to add can vary, depending on the rice you use, the level of heat you are using etc. Keep tasting the risotto as it cooks to determine if it is done to your liking.
Another consideration is the level of heat you use. Cook the risotto at medium heat. Too low or too high heat and the risotto may not cook properly. When I make a risotto I place the pot with the stock on the smaller back burner and cook the risotto on the front larger burner. This way I can scoop out the stock from the pot and into the risotto quickly and easily.
Risotto is good plain, with a bit of lemon zest, butter and a handful of grated Parmesan mixed in at the end. You can also dress it up, engaging it with other textures and flavours. If you add vegetables to the risotto consider how long they take to cook. If they cook quickly, such as peas or asparagus, add them half way through the cooking or at the last possible moment so they finish cooking together with the rice. Alternatively, cook them separately and add them to the risotto at the end. Vegetables that take longer to cook, such as butternut squash, can be added early in the cooking process. I usually save a few pieces of the vegetables to use as garnish on top of the risotto.
You can serve risotto as a main course at lunch or dinner, or serve it alongside a protein entree. Leftovers can be shaped into cakes, coated with breadcrumbs and sautéed or baked to perfection in a hot oven.
Risotto, Basic Method
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion, or 1 shallot, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup grated cheese (parmesan, pecorino)
Place stock in a small pot and bring to a boil, reduce to low.
Melt butter in a 2 quart pot, add onion and cook until softened.
Add rice to the onion and stir to coat the grains with the butter, cooking about 2 minutes.
Add the wine and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates.
Start adding a bit of stock, a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well between each addition and waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more.
Add lemon zest and continue adding stock slowly until rice grains are nice and plump. The rice may not require the full 4 cups of stock. Taste it and stop when it is done. Cooking time should be at least 20 minutes or more.
Add some salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the cheese at the end will add some salt.
When the risotto is cooked to your liking add 1 tablespoon butter, some of the parsley and the grated cheese and stir, allowing the butter and cheese to melt into the risotto.
Taste and correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
Let the risotto rest and settle for a couple of minutes, then scoop it into individual serving bowls and serve warm, sprinkled with the remaining parsley, parmesan and lemon zest.