Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook - Chinese Proverb

I never thought much about making risotto until I started watching Hell’s Kitchen – starring my hero Gordon Ramsay.  It’s just a rice dish . . . how complicated could it be.  But, then again, if it’s being served in fine dining then there must be something more to it than I think there is. 
 I’ve made it a few times and it is really and truly the bee’s knees!  Thick, creamy, complex and satisfying.

And, really, it’s not all that difficult to make.  It is, however, time consuming and labor intensive.  Risotto needs a lot of love and attention . . . much like my husband (just kidding sweetie).

It’s especially fun because, like pasta, it is versatile.  You can combine any number of ingredients for a varied flavorful dish every time.

So what’s the big deal . . . well, first off you need a specific type of rice to make risotto . . . not the $15 for a 25 pound bag of rice stuff.  The best rices for making risotto are Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli. Other short-grained rices such as Originario will also work. Long grained rices don’t work because the grains will stay separate.
 I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a risotto master but I make a damn tasty risotto (if I do say so myself).

Here are the basics, as I’ve learned them: 
  • Sauté a small to medium onion in olive oil or unsalted butter or a combination of the two – whatever the recipe you’re using calls for.
  • Stir in the rice and sauté it too until it becomes translucent (this will take 7-10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep it from sticking.
  • Stir in a cup of warmed dry white or red wine - if it’s cold you will shock the rice and it will not cook properly.
  • Once the wine has evaporated completely, add a ladle of simmering broth; stir in the next before all the liquid is absorbed, because if the grains get too dry they will flake.
  • Continue cooking, stirring and adding broth as the rice absorbs it, until the rice barely reaches the al dente stage.
  • At this point stir in a tablespoon of butter or grated cheese or a quarter cup of heavy cream (if the recipe calls for it), cover the risotto, and turn off the heat. Let it sit, covered, for two to three minutes, and serve.
Adding cream at the end makes a richer, smoother risotto.  Risotto that has had cream stirred into it is called mantecato.

If you are making a risotto with a fairly moist ingredient – like zucchini or tomatoes - that won't take well to being fried with the rice you will have to use a separate pan to prepare the sauce part with the moist ingredients.    When you are at the point in your recipe where you would start to add the broth you will alternate broth and the sauce until all the sauce is gone.  Finish cooking the risotto as you would normally.

If you take the time and make the risotto properly, I promise you will not be disappointed.   It will be one of your new comfort foods!


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