A Risotto for All Seasons

Risotto is one of those things I never order when I’m out at a restaurant. Mainly because it is so easily made at home. In my house, risotto is made when there is little time until dinner and the fridge is next to empty. My family comes from Piedmonte, more specifically Novara and Casalvolone.

These are the fields outside of my grandparents house. Here you see the rice sprouting. It is grown in wide, shallow fields. Farmers plant the seeds and then flood them with water. The water is brought in by a series of canals and locks and regulated throughout the season. The rice grown here is specific for risotto.

It is either Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Normally, I use Arborio because it is easier to find. The starch levels in this rice are really what make it special. The gentle, slow cooking coax the starches out and form the delicious-ness that is a good risotto.

Frankly, I don’t find the 30 minute cooking time to be all that slow and it requires about as much monitoring as making a pasta dish. Every couple of minutes you give it a stir and maybe a little more liquid. You can’t leave the house, but really, how many recipes outside of a slow-cooker allow you to do that while you are cooking?

Now that I have cleared risotto of its bad rap, let’s talk about its many wonderful qualities. People think it is fancy so you can serve it to a crowd without the expense of serving a roast. It can be flavored in an infinite number of ways, from the simple Risotto alla Milanese with only saffron and white wine to perhaps a roasted butternut squash risotto with pancetta and pine nuts.

Today we are going to focus on a lovely mushroom risotto. It works equally well with dried mushrooms so you don’t have to worry about shopping. The format for all risotto is basically the same.

You start with an onion, maybe some celery if you have it, and chop it up. That goes into a wide pot with some olive oil over medium-low heat. While the onions cook, slice or dice up whatever you will be adding to the risotto. Things like mushrooms can handle a long cooking time and will go in now. Beans or herbs should go in at the very end.

Add the mushrooms and turn up the heat so they get a little color. When the mushrooms are mostly cooked, you add the rice and toast it. This step is very important because it adds a lot of flavor. It only takes about a minute.

Now you begin to add the liquids. White wine, red wine, chicken stock, beef broth. It all depends on what flavor profile you are looking for. I’ve even used brandy and duck stock on occasion.

I often use bouillon paste rather than actual stock because my freezer is not very big. If you decide to do that, fill a kettle up with water and keep that at a low boil while you are stirring the risotto. Simply add a little more hot water instead of broth as the rice becomes plump.
If you have questions about specific combinations, feel free to ask me or leave suggestions. I’m always happy to talk about risotto!

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Mushroom Risotto
serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 c mushrooms, sliced
1/2 c white wine
2 c Arborio rice
1 qt chicken broth
salt
peas, optional
Parmesan cheese to serve

Heat broth or water in a kettle to a simmer and keep hot over low heat.
Add olive oil and onion to a large, wide pot. Sauté  until onions have become soft and translucent. Add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat. Once mushrooms are mostly cooked, add rice and toast briefly.
Add wine and stir until it is completely absorbed. Lower heat to medium. Begin to add liquid, broth or water, until rice is covered slightly by water. Stir once and then allow to cook until liquid is mostly absorbed. Add more liquid, stir, and cook. Repeat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the rice from sticking.
Once the rice becomes creamy, taste a few grains of rice. The rice should be tender but not hard or crunchy. Continue cooking and adding liquid until it achieves the correct texture. Season to taste with salt and add peas if using. Serve with a generous coating of Parmesan cheese.

 

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Filed under Italian, Rice & Grains

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