In my last post I mentioned risotto as a “culinary blank slate”, and I’ve been making it more frequently for just that reason. The basic recipe is delicious, but it’s also a convenient, inexpensive palate for numerous ingredient combinations, i.e., whatever I have left over in the fridge or pantry.
Before I started making risotto regularly, I was daunted by the much-ballyhooed 30-40 minutes of constant stirring the dish “requires”. Note the quotation marks – risotto does just fine with frequent, as opposed to constant, stirring.
This change from constant to frequent makes all the difference for me. I can’t leave the kitchen altogether (to watch the Yankees game for example) while the risotto is cooking, but I can do other cooking tasks in between stirs. My results may not be quite as creamy as constant stirring would produce, but for me the trade-off is worth it since the risotto is still fantastic.
I’ve found that the most important thing to do when cooking risotto is to taste it periodically. There will come a point when it is perfect – tender, but with a bite. Cook it any longer and it will become mushy – still edible but missing the essence of what makes risotto so special.
The basic recipe is straightforward.
For two servings:
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 TB olive oil
1 cup short-grained rice, like Arborio
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
1 TB butter
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the broth in a small saucepan. Keep it over a low flame near the risotto pan.
2. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the rice and toast it gently for about five minutes.
3. Add the wine to the rice and simmer until the wine has virtually evaporated.
4. Add a 1/2 cup of broth to the rice, stirring to incorporate it. The broth will gently simmer, and the mixture will get thicker as the rice absorbs the liquid. Stay close to the stove, but feel free to do a few dishes, or trim asparagus or the like. Stir again a few times, and when the liquid is mostly absorbed, add another 1/2 cup broth. Repeat the process until the rice is al dente – tender, but with a bite. (The rice may be perfect before you use all the broth. Don’t force the rest of the broth in; your rice will become too mushy. Or, you may use up all the broth and still have hard rice. In that case, add a 1/4 cup of water at a time and incorporate it just as you did the broth. In my experience the risotto is usually ready before I’ve used all of the broth.)
5. Turn off the heat. Stir in the butter and Parmigiano cheese. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper if desired.
Once you’ve got the basic method down, you can vary it in all sorts of ways. Omit the butter and cheese if you want. Add any number of other ingredients: sausage, shrimp, blanched asparagus pieces, shallots, garlic, butternut squash puree, nuts, blue cheese, baby greens…wherever your refrigerator and imagination take you. Sunday night I made porcini mushroom risotto, and it was creamy, earthy, and deeply flavored. Recipe to come in my next post.