This traditional rice dish from northern Italy is loved for its rich creamy texture and compatibility with vegetable dishes. In the Middle Ages, risotto was nothing more than rice cooked in water or broth, mixed with whatever herbs or meats the peasants had available. Today, risotto has evolved into one of the most popular dishes of Italian cuisine with much potential for variety and creativity, but the basic recipe is still quite simple.
Risotto is typically prepared with Carnaroli rice or Arborio rice. While Arborio rice is popular for its creaminess, Carnaroli holds its shape better and absorbs more flavors. Try both and see which variety you prefer.
This basic recipe is for two. You will need:
A cup of uncooked, unwashed rice (Arborio or Carnaroli.)
Three cups of hot soup stock (chicken, mushroom, or vegetable as preferred. A bouillon block may be used if fresh stocks are unavailable.)
The finely minced quarter of a small onion
Two tablespoons of white wine (dry, not sweet)
A tablespoon of butter, and two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. You can add more or less as desired.
Salt and freshly milled black pepper to finish.
1. Fry the minced onions in a tablespoon of olive oil for three minutes. You may add roughly chopped mushrooms and/or chicken at this stage, if desired. Add the rice when the onions are soft, coating it in oil and frying for about a minute.
2. Add the white wine and stir for about thirty seconds over a medium heat, or until the wine has been absorbed by the rice and the excess evaporated.
3. Set a timer for eighteen minutes and start adding the stock by the half-cup, stirring constantly at a medium heat. The stock must be hot or the risotto will not cook thoroughly. Prawns and green peas are an excellent addition that can be added at this stage. If using any frozen ingredients, heat them in the microwave before addition so as not to disturb the cooking.
4. At the end of eighteen minutes, turn off the fire and quickly stir in the butter and grated Parmesan cheese to finish. For an even richer risotto, add cream at the end of the cooing time. The risotto should be creamy, but the grains should remain separate.
5. Serve immediately on warmed flat dinner plates. Risotto is filling, so taking servings and seconds is preferred to overcrowding the plate. Risotto is great accompanied by a vegetable dish like steamed broccoli, asparagus, peas, or carrots with a dab of butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t forget to serve a good white table wine.
Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can get creative. Try your favorite stocks, cheeses, and wines. Typical additions include wild mushrooms, chicken, asparagus, or canned crab meat. The colors of bright green peas with pink prawns compliment the risotto wonderfully. Still, remember that you can use whatever you like. Modern chefs are not afraid to create fusion risotto recipes with French, Thai, Spanish, Middle Eastern, or Indian themes and spices; so neither should you be afraid to use your very valid culinary license.
Dessert risottos resemble rice pudding in texture and richness. Omit the stock, onions, and all savory spices, using instead equal parts of water and milk with a pinch of salt. Use a sweet wine, and finish with luxurious amounts of, cream, sugar and fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and bananas are especially good). For a traditional taste, use a sprinkling of cinnamon or nutmeg. For an attractive chocolate risotto, dark chocolatee pieces can be swirled lightly into the risotto for a sophisticated marbled look, and then the dish can be garnished with orange zest or peel slivers.