On the Side: A Duo of Risotto

Every food enthusiast who watches food television has heard of risotto, though not everyone has cooked it. Up until about a year ago, I had been counted in that number. Risotto both intrigued and frightened me, caused me to salivate, yet also cower in fear. Averse reactions are difficult to avoid when 90% of the people who cook it on TV not only screw up, but are labeled stupid donkeys who can’t cook.

I didn’t want to be a stupid donkey who couldn’t cook, either, so I avoided risotto until recently.

I ran across a recipe for a Basic Risotto that included a few variations, and explained a little more scientifically how the risotto should be made, and why. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been interested in more of the instructional explanations of food lately, so of course this appealed to me. I ran right home and made it.

Risotto is typically served as either a starter to a meal or as a side. Lately I’ve been serving it alongside lighter main dishes, like Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Balsamic Glaze. The basic components of risotto are rice, stock, wine, and cheese, and the variations of risotto can make this a nice accompaniment to any meal.

One thing to note if this is your first foray into risotto is that even though your recipe may only say 1 cup of rice, keep in mind that this really will end up into being a lot of risotto. There’s usually around 4 cups of stock that go into this, not to mention wine and cheese and other stuff. One cup of rice that goes into a risotto makes a lot, so if you’re cooking for two or three people, you will not want to double the recipe.

Basic Risotto
1 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons heavy cream

So all I’m going to do now is take you through the instructions that are posted on the Food Network website (recipe comes from Gourmet magazine but the recipe is on Food Network… beats me) and alternate with my photographs to show you the transformation from the raw ingredients into the risotto. I thought about adding additional commentary, but the recipe does such a great job of explaining what to and what not to do that it’s unnecessary.

Pick through the rice to remove any stones or foreign matter, but do not wash it before cooking. Using a large skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil over low heat and saute or “sweat” the onions until translucent, being careful not to allow them to color or brown at all.

Add the Arborio rice, stir to coat with the olive oil, and saute with the onions to toast each grain of rice, about 7 minutes. This toasting process adds the chewy, al dente quality that attracts so many people to risotto.

Once the rice is lightly toasted, add the white wine slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon. A wooden spoon is always preferable when making risotto, as a metal spoon tends to cut or injure the grains of rice. Constant stirring should be avoided for the same reason.

Preheat the chicken stock just to the boiling point, then have it ready at stoveside. After the rice has absorbed the white wine and the skillet is nearly dry, add 1 cup stock, stirring occasionally, and cook over very low heat until the stock is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, 1 cup at a time, until all the stock has been absorbed.

(Adding the liquid in stages, instead of all at once, allows the grains of rice to expand more fully, adding to the risotto’s creamy texture.) Once the rice has been added to the pan, the entire cooking process will take about 17 to 20 minutes.

After all of the liquid has been added and the rice is chewy yet fully cooked, with a creamy texture, add the butter, Parmesan, and heavy cream. Stir to combine all the ingredients and serve immediately.

And that’s all there is to it. When I make it, I think it’s more about a timing issue – you really want to just jump the gun and pull it out on a plate, but this recipe really helps you walk it through.

Now if you want to get fancy, you can try one that Citizen Chef always makes and receives raves. I don’t know if I should be doing this or not but hey – he had his chance to post it and never did so I’m stealing his thunder.

Citizen Chef’s Awesome Green Onion Risotto
4 cups low salt chicken broth
2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup green onions
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons whipping cream
3 Tablespoons finely grated orange peel

Remember to apply the same techniques described in the recipe above when making this.

Bring broth to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and keep warm. Finely chop white part of green onion, thinly slice green part.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped green onions and cook until soft, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Stir in rice. Add wine; cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.

Add 4 cups broth, 1 cup at a time, cooking until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, stirring frequently, until rice is tender but still firm, about 20 minutes.

Stir in sliced green onions, Parmesan, whipping cream, and orange peel. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed if dry. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Go forth with your risotto, and be a donkey no more!

Not that you were one to begin with, I was just sayin… You know… Because I need an ending.


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