Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Risotto is just Italian hot dish

One of my new favorite meal solutions is risotto.  Do not let the name intimidate you.  Do not let the fact that usually this dish is only found in fancy restaurants deter you.  Because risotto is really just creamy rice hot dish.  It is quick, as easy as Hamburger Helper and a great way to use a wide variety of vegetables.  You can make risotto with beets, winter or summer squash, mushrooms, cabbage, peas, carrots, spinach, asparagus - the list goes on.   There are infinite varieties of risotto - limited only by your imagination.  It is Italian grandma comfort food. You may get to like it more than macaroni and cheese.

There are only a few things to know about risotto before you get started.   First, you need to use a special variety of rice - such as Arborio, Baldo or Carnaroli.  If you can find it, use Carnaroli.  Many cooks think it is the best.   These are not brand names - just short, plump varieties that can absorb a lot of liquid and still have a nice "bite" and texture.  Second,  a good risotto requires flavorful broth or stock (it could be chicken, vegetable,  mushroom, shellfish or meat) as well as a little white wine.

Third, risotto always is better with a little grated parmesan and butter stirred in at the end. 

I have gotten to the point where I do not use an exact recipe - and I don't think you need to either. 
A few days ago I had some fresh morel mushrooms, spring onions and asparagus sitting around in my refrigerator waiting for their fate to be decided by me, their kitchen goddess.   I washed and sliced the veggies - ended up with about 1 cup asparagus, 1 cup mushrooms and 1/2 cup onions.   I set those out, along with about 5 cups of vegetable stock, some white wine and a little butter, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.  Oh yes, and about 1/4 cup of chopped pancetta (you could substitute bacon or leave it out.)  Then I got out the rice and a heavy iron skillet.  You need a heavy pan so the rice doesn't scorch when being sauteed in fat.

The first step in any risotto is to saute some onion, garlic or shallot in some fat.  About 1/2 cup onions to 2 T fat.  You can use butter, olive oil or even bacon fat.  Sometimes I like to saute some bacon or pancetta right along with the onions.   After the onions are soft, then add about 1 1/2 cups of rice.   After a few minute of stirring over the heat, you will see little white opaque "eyes" in the rice and it will appear translucent.  You do not want it to brown. 

The next step is to add wine - about 1/2 cup per 1 1/2 cups rice.  White wine is most often used but you could use red wine, beer or even some broth with a teaspoon or two of wine vinegar added for acidity.
Cook the wine over medium heat until it is mostly evaporated.

Now it is time to add the broth (warm it first). Add enough so the rice is barely covered - and keep it at a vigorous simmer.  As the liquid cooks down and the rice is exposed, add more broth.  Add a little salt early on so it can penetrate the rice.  You will need about 5 cups broth for 1 1/2 cups rice.  Stir frequently as rice is cooking.  It should take about 20-30 minutes.  I added the asparagus about ten minutes before I thought the rice would be done.  As you gain experience, you can add vegetables early or later in the rice cooking process - depending on the size of the vegetable pieces and whether you prefer them soft or more firm.  You can add herbs at the beginning - when you are sauteing the onion or later - right before serving.  You can also stir in vegetable purees at the end, or bits of meat or fish.

The final step is to add about 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese and a tablespoon of butter.  (Italians would not add the cheese if making a shellfish risotto.  Just not done.)  Stir a minute or two with vigor to develop the starch,  turn off the heat, cover the skillet, wait a few minutes.  Add a little more broth if the rice is too thick.  Then serve and enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment