I had, if not the best tasting, the most creative presentation of risotto in Siena, Italy last month.
We had ordered our meal and finished the antipasti. Time for the pasta course! A lovely young girl placed a plate of carbonara in front of my guy as another wheeled a cart up to the table. On the cart was a large wheel or parmesan.
What the heck, I wonder.
The wheel was cut horizontally, about 1/3 of the way down; like a round box with a lid. She lifted the lid, and, much to my delight, inside was my steaming risotto! She stirred and scraped for a couple minutes to incorporate the cheese into the risotto, then plated it and topped it with a few hard scrapes from the top of the cheese as a garnish. Fabulous! Hot and creamy, cheesy and perfectly textured. A little bowl of heaven. Which I can recreate at home. Well, I’m trying.
Risotto. Stir it or don’t. Add liquid a cup at a time… or all at once. Toast the rice… or not. Heat the liquid before adding to the rice, or keep it at room temp. Does it take 45 minutes or 18? So many questions, so many variables. I’m still on the quest for the perfect risotto, but I do learn something new each time I make it. Let’s get on with the ingredients and then talk about technique:
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 C dry white wine
4 1/2 C chicken broth or stock
1/2 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Mayan), minced
5 cloves roasted garlic, chopped
1/3 C roasted tomatoes (I got mine at the deli counter, packed in garlic and oil
3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
Sweat the minced onion in a bit of olive oil until it becomes translucent, then add the roasted garlic.
Add the rice and cook until it starts to get translucent, stirring all the while. You don’t want it to brown.
Add the white wine and start to gently stir until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Add the broth, a cup or ladle at a time, stirring all the while, only adding more when the liquid is just about absorbed.
Test the rice for doneness after about 17 minutes. Depending on the cooking temp (and who knows what other factors) it can be nearly done, or still need another ten or so minutes. It should be soft, but still al dente. You do not want mushy risotto.
Right at the end, stir in the roasted tomatoes.
Remove from heat and quickly stir in the parmesan.
Now, on to what worked and what I will change.
- Risotto is all about the starch. Using a short grained rice is imperative. Arborio is good, I hear Vialone Nano is better, but not available for me locally. I do plan on ordering some on line, just to give it a go.
- Some cooks say that constant stirring breaks down the starch and gives the risotto its creaminess. Others say the starch is all on the outside of the grain and a few stirs will release it. I’ve seen people swear by toasting the rice and others who say it messes with the starch and the risotto won’t be as creamy, though it does add a nice color to the dish.
My next test will be to wash the rice in the broth I’ll be using, strain it, toast the rice, then, as I add the broth, the starchiness will be added back in, therefore giving me both color and creaminess. Worth a try, right?
- I’ve had really nice risotto where all the liquid was added at once and it was left alone until the last 5 minutes, then stirred until done. I don’t know that it really makes a difference. Liquid is absorbed as quickly as it can be; no more and no less. Does it matter how much is swimming around the grain? I think the thing is the process. I rather enjoy fussing over the pot, watching it all come together. Just know that if you have other things you need to prepare, you really can step away from the stove for a few minutes without ruining your risotto.
- I cooked this batch at a higher temp than usual; I generally go with a slow simmer, but bumped it up to medium heat. It was done in 18 minutes, give or take, rather than 45. I like this.
I served this risotto with spicy Italian sausage and roasted fennel, and we finished things off with a simple salad.