Sunday, April 13, 2008

Risotto- Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Note- A newer version of this recipe can be found here
I am back, now hopefully without any pesky interruptions like school and graduation and things like that.

Lately I have become quite enamored with risotto. Maybe it is the fact that I have had really good risotto and really bad risotto. The good was creamy with a small bite, tasting as if it was made with gallons of cream and slow cooked to bring out the nuttiness in the rice. The bad was well, terrible, consisting most of packed rice into some sort of art shape and lacking any form of flavor or texture. The two extremes are the reason that I never made risotto at home. But, since I am a glutton for punishment, I finally decided to give it a whirl.

First is the rice. You need medium grain arborio rice, nothing else will work as well. I like Rice Select, but most arborio rice they sell in markets is satisfactory. Next comes the liquid you will be adding to the rice to make the dish. Some recipes call for all broth, some call for all water. Some use red wine or vegetable stock. I use what I have on hand. I found that using all chicken stock can make the dish a little too strong, so I tried to find a balance in what I added. Here is my recommendation. Use half stock and half water. If you are using vegetables, use the water you cook them in. Try and incorporate the flavors you are using into the stock, this will round out the dish much better. This brings me to my next point, the additional ingredients. I am giving a recipe for asparagus risotto. But I have also made spring vegetable and shrimp risotto. This dish can take most flavor combinations, and I am even working on trying a desert dish with berries and honey.

So now that the ingredients are settled, let me quickly give instructions for how to make risotto. It is much easier than you think. First, saute an onion (or similar vegetable) in a little butter until it is soft. Add the rice to this, stirring often until the rice starts to smell toasty and just take on a tannish hue. Add warm stock about a cup at a time, stirring the rice constantly until the liquid is absorbed. If you add it all at once you will make pilaf, and that is not what we are after here. Once the liquid is absorbed, add about another cup of stock, repeating this for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes you must start to taste the rice!! That is the only real way to know if it is done. I never use the same amount of stock, which is why I always keep extra handy. You are looking for soft rice with just a little bit of al dente in the middle. Crunch is bad, but so is mush. This is where so many risottos go bad, people do not taste what they are cooking. If it is crunchy, add a bit more stock. If it is just rice, remove it from the heat. Finish the dish with some butter and cheese, and serve. See, not so hard. A decent amount of stirring, but if you take it slow, you will be hard pressed to make a mess of this.

Asparagus Risotto

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 onion, diced
4 T butter
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups chicken stock (1 can)
3 cups water
1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces. Quickly steam for about 1 minute so just turn bright green but have all their crunch. Remove from steamer and rinse under cold water. Reserve cooking water and use as part of water for risotto.

In a small pot over medium low heat add the water and chicken stock until warm. In a heavy bottomed pan (I like a dutch oven, but any heavy pot will due), melt 2 T butter over medium heat until foaming, add the onion and some salt and sweat for about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir constantly until the rice is slightly colored and smells toasted. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Reduce the heat slightly and add about 1 cup of the stock, stirring constantly until all of the stock has been absorbed. Repeat until about 20 minutes have passed and taste rice. If slightly al dente it is cooked, if it still has a crunch a a little more stock and re taste. Once it is to your liking, remove the risotto from the heat and add the remaining 2 T butter and Parmesan, stirring to incorporate. Season with salt and lots of pepper, add the asparagus and mix. Serve hot or at room temperature


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