Risotto is the ideal comfort food. It can also be a bit difficult to get just right. Risotto is a diva in the food world, craving attention and care and more attention. If done right, however, risotto will be a creamy and luscious bit of perfection. Here are a few tips on how to handle your risotto and make it sing.
Your risotto starts with a few key ingredients for a spectacular creation – rice, chicken stock, onions, butter, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and white wine. Sticking with the standards should ensure success, but you can be flexible. You can substitute shallots for the onions, and red wine for the white wine. While Parmesan is normally used, if you prefer another type of cheese, try it and see how it works. Once you have mastered the basic risotto, you can add extras, such as shrimp, lobster, mushroom, asparagus or spinach to create something really special.
Of course, you need the perfect rice – Arborio or Carnaroli. Don’t use any other type of rice. You shouldn’t rinse the rice, as that will wash away necessary starches. Start your risotto by heating up your chicken broth. The perfect ratio to broth and rice is 4 cups of broth to 1 cup of rice (not including some additional wine you can add for extra savoriness.), plus 1 cup of cheese. While the broth simmers, use a Dutch oven to sauté the onions in some olive oil until they are fragrant. Add the rice and some salt and continue stirring for about three to four minutes. You don’t want to burn the rice.
Add a splash of wine – a nice Sauvignon Blanc works great – to deglaze the bottom of the Dutch oven, keeping the heat just above a simmer. Your risotto should never boil. Pour in half a cup of the hot chicken broth and a bit more wine over the rice. The hot broth helps to release the starches from the rice, thus giving it that creamy smoothness that you want. The rice will become infused with the flavor of the broth as it cooks. It’s important to keep stirring until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Like any diva, risotto thrives on attention, so provide it and stir continuously. This will ensure the perfect texture. If your diva doesn’t receive this attention, she is apt to turn gummy. Think of it as caressing with a spoon.
Keep adding in half cups of broth until you’re done, followed by more splashes of white wine. And keep stirring. If you pour in all of the broth at once, the rice will be runny instead of creamy, so allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. It should take about 25 minutes for the rice to the tender, creamy and just a bit chewy. Be patient, and your efforts will be rewarded.
When your rice reaches the al dente stage, remove the Dutch oven from the heat and vigorously stir ¾ cup of Parmesan cheese into the rice. Of course, you wouldn’t use anything but freshly grated, would you? No, you would not. Sprinkle in some pepper and adjust the salt to your liking. Now’s the time to stir in about a ¼ cup of butter. Add another ¼ cup of cheese and stir. Let all those delicate flavors absorb and meld together.
When you have perfected the basic technique of preparing a delicious risotto, you can customize it by adding extra ingredients, such as mushrooms, asparagus, bits of chickens, seafood or peas. These ingredients should be cooked ahead of time and stirred into the rice to warm up during the final cooking stages, when the risotto is almost finished. This can be done just prior to adding the cheese or together with the cheese. Adding favorite ingredients to your risotto will give it an entirely new dimension.
Adding freshly chopped herbs is another way to enhance the flavor of your basic risotto. Freshly chopped mint pairs well with young peas, and basil will enhance the goodness of fresh chopped tomatoes.
If you add seafood such as shrimp or lobster to your risotto, you are basically turning it into a spectacular main dish. Squeeze in some lemon juice when you pour in the final hot chicken stock for a bright flavor enhancer.
Adding some shaved truffles to your risotto, or drizzling a few drops of truffle oil on top, can elevate the dish into something extraordinary and sublime.
When it comes to additions, you can be as creative as you like. The diva of good foods loves tasty company, so don’t hesitate to experiment a little.