Risotto isn't rice, it's a racket.
How this totally elemental, Northern Italian dish ever gained the reputation of being finicky and onerous, I'll never know.
I've been tempted to keep up its charade and, in turn, the praise and admiration heaped upon me every time I make it, but call me more evolved than that.
The truth is, I'd like to indict risotto's stiff and stodgy imposters on charges of fraud and third-degree yuckiness.
Properly cooked, risotto should not only be al dente (or, say it with me now, "to the tooth"), but also all'onda (or "wavy"). It ought to spread out across the plate on which it's served.
And, because the industrious, liquid-absorbing, starch-releasing rice kernels continue to cook in their own warmth, risotto's meant to be eaten at once--leftovers best repurposed into crispy cakes or arancini.
I say, if you have a half-hour and opposable thumbs, then you can master risotto.
I'll be right here to hold your hand.
What you'll need
- 7 cups well-seasoned chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion or 1 large shallot, diced
- chef's measure of salt
- 2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (red is used in unique cases, as in risotto al Barolo)
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and kept cold
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, plus shavings for serving
What you'll do
Heat stock: In a medium stock pot, bring your stock to a simmer. Have a ladle nearby.
Soffritto: In a large, high-sided, heavy-bottomed sauté pan or a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmery. Add the onion or shallot along with a healthy pinch of salt and cook until translucent, but not brown--about 5 minutes.
Tostatura: Add the rice, stirring with a wooden spoon until each grain gleams with oil and becomes see-through on its edges--or brillatura ("sparkling") in Italian.
Vino: The best part! Pour the wine into your risotto (and into your glass for some diversion for the next 20 minutes) and stir. Lower your flame a touch. The goal now is to keep the rice barely immersed in gently bubbling liquid.
Stock: Once the wine has absorbed, add a ladleful of your simmering stock (around a 1/2 cup at a time) and stir. Contrary to scare tactics, your risotto will not perish if you stop stirring. As long as you attend to it once or twice after each stock addition, you can enjoy full use of your hands. Repeat the stock replenishing process (taking time halfway through to season with salt), until you've been at it for about 18 minutes.
Additions: Test the rice now and if it's just shy of al dente, then make this your penultimate stock addition. Now, add in your vegetables, using my suggestions below as guidelines. Stir for another 2 minutes. At this point, I always add one final dose of stock to ensure authentic risotto consistency. You may end up with stock remaining.
Mantecatura: Pull the risotto from the burner and "beat in" the cubes of cold butter and Parmigiano until your arm hurts and the risotto sounds delectable. Adjust for seasoning, pour into a serving bowl, and finish with Parmigiano shavings and any other accessories.
How you'll vary it by season
Cut a pound of asparagus spears into 1-1/2 inch diagonal lengths and blanch them in boiling, salted water for 4 minutes. At 2 minutes, add 1-1/2 cups of shelled English peas into the same water with the asparagus. Drain and shock the asparagus and peas in an ice bath. Stir them, along with the zest of one large lemon (or two small ones), into the risotto following the second to last addition of stock. Add the juice of the zested lemon(s) during the mantecatura step and finish with Parmigiano shavings plus chives, chervil, mint, parsley, or tarragon.
Slow-roast 1-1/2 pounds halved cherry tomatoes with several whole cloves of garlic and plenty of olive oil in a 250 degree oven for 2 hours. Following the second to last addition of stock, stir in the tomatoes. Swirl in a 1/3 cup of mascarpone during the mantecatura step and then finish with Parmigiano shavings and a huge handful of torn or chiffonaded basil.
Dice 4 thick slices of pancetta and render it in a sauté pan until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon, keeping the drippings in the pan. Meanwhile, roast cubes of butternut squash at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes, and gently fold them into the risotto following the second to last addition of stock. Fry whole sage leaves in the pancetta's fat. Top the risotto with the sage, the infused-oil, the pancetta nuggets, and Parmigiano shavings.
Sauté 1 pound of mushrooms plus 1 ounce of dried porcini (reconstituted in a cup of warm stock or water for 15 minutes and then strained) in plenty of butter that's had some time with a few sprigs of thyme or marjoram. Substitute vermouth, marsala, madeira, or sherry for half of the wine measure. Stir the mushrooms into the risotto following the second to last addition of stock and serve with Parmigiano shavings.