Risotto, when prepared correctly, is a simple dish with complex flavors built up during a specific, slow cooking of the rice and ingredients. In its simplest form, the ingredients are arborio or carnaroli rice (the most popular types), butter (or olive oil), onions (or shallots), grated Parmigiano Reggiano and white wine. There are literally hundreds of other ingredients and variations that encompass the world of risotto, with varied spices (saffron being a favorite) and proteins complimenting the dish.
The method of slow cooking and stirring tends to gelatinize while being stirred, which helps give risotto it's memorable creamy texture.
There are also other rice types well-suited for making risotto: Baldo, Maratelli , Rosa Marchetti , Sant'Andrea and Vialone. The basic technique is to first roast the rice in a bit of fat until it looks translucent, adding wine to deglaze, then adding preheated broth a little at a time while stirring constantly throughout the cooking. Other ingredients, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, and butter are added at the end. Patience is key in making a great risotto at home. The rice needs to feel creamy on the tongue (never mushy) while still being a bit al dente. I could take an hour or more to nurse the risotto into full fruition. There are some tricks for making risotto faster, as restaurant kitchens do, but I won't get into that here. Making risotto at home is an act of love...
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice (Click the photo, the see on Amazon)
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 medium sweet onion (or half a large Vidalia)-diced finely
1 cup dry white wine (Frascati or Pinot Grigio, or one of your choice)
6 cups of chick or vegetable broth, heated in a saucepan (for ladling into the rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus additional for topping off the dish)
- Start by heating the broth in a small saucepan until barely simmering. Maintain this level of heat all the way through the cooking of the rice.
- Using a 12-14" saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat, then add the diced onion. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Add the rice, stirring to coat the rice. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the rice is well coated and the outer surface of the rice looks translucent. You can add the salt at this point.
- Next, turn the heat down to medium low and add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed by the rice.
- This step will be repeated until the rice is tender with barely an al dente bite:
Take a ladle of hot broth and stir it into the rice. Keep stirring (preferably with a flat wooden spoon) until it is absorbed. Repeat, constantly stirring the rice all the way through the cooking. In case you've run out of broth, you can quickly heat up some water and use that to finish off the risotto until you reach the right texture.
Toward the end, you will notice the starch in the rice being released to make a creamy consistency. Occasionally, taste the rice to make sure it is cooked through while still having a little bit of "tooth". You do not want it mushy, but you don't want crunch on individual grains. You will also know when the rice is nearing completion when you experience a sort of "wave" when you stir the rice, making a circular motion with the flat edge of your spoon around the bottom of the pan. Italian chef's call this the all'onda (wavy) effect. When your spoon passes through the rice, and it leaves behind a silky wave that slowly fills in the wake of your spoon, the risotto is at the right texture.
- The last step is to add the butter and stir more vigorously (like a whipping motion) until it's melted and incorporated.
- Finally, add the cheese and mix thoroughly. Serving risotto immediately is best, but I've found that you can reconstitute risotto leftovers by boiling a half cup of water (or more as needed) in a saucepan, and then adding and stirring the risotto to reheat.
This is an all around recipe that can be varied and added to as you like. I'd suggest practicing this recipe a few times until you consider yourself an expert at making it. After that you can experiment or try your own variations of other recipes you find online. Try a seafood variation by adding shrimp, fish stock and lemon. Or... Roast pumpkin and asparagus (folded in at the end); tomato, basil and pignoli; smoked chicken and eggplant; or classic Milanese style with saffron and peas.
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