Basic Risotto

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Risotto is a practical light-handed way of eating good rice flavored with simple tastes. This recipe suggests using springtime vegetables, young zucchini and green peas, but you can omit both and just make the dish without them. Alternatively, in fall and winter, instead of using fresh vegetables, you can use two ounces dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms, soaked for thirty minutes in one cup of hot water then chopped (and use the mushroom soaking water as part of your stock). The essentials are good rice, good oil, good stock, good cheese, and a little patience.

There is a mystique about risotto, perhaps because for many years good Italian rice that would hold its shape during cooking was hard to find in North America. Now, with good rice available, risotto is becoming the dish it has always been in Northern Italy, a quickly prepared dish, accessible to all. Make sure your pot has a thick bottom, so the heat is even, and use a wooden spoon for stirring.

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Ingredients

  • Approximately 6 cups lightly salted mild chicken or vegetarian stock
  • ΒΌ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cups carnaroli, vialone nano, or arborio superfino rice (or substitute Valencia or CalRiso rice)
  • 3 to 4 tiny young zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks (optional)
  • Small handful of fresh peas, or 12 snow peas, sliced in half (optional)
  • β…” cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Place the stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer very gently. Place dinner plates or shallow soup plates in the oven, set to low, to warm.

Heat the oil in a large wide heavy pot. Toss in the onion and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the grains begin to become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Using a ladle or a cup, add 1 cup of the hot stock and stir gently to prevent sticking. The rice will gradually start absorbing the liquid. Add the vegetables (if using). When the liquid is bubbling and starting to be absorbed, add another Β½ cup stock to the rice. Continue stirring every minute or so to prevent sticking and to help distribute the liquid. When the liquid has been mostly absorbed, add another Β½ cup stock and repeat. Continue cooking the rice, adding more stock as it is absorbed, until the rice is tender with just a slight firmness at the center, 15 to 20 minutes. The dish should have a creamy texture.

Stir in the grated cheese and let stand 1 minute, then turn out onto the preheated plates. Grind black pepper over each serving. Place a small bowl with extra cheese on the table so guests can sprinkle more on if they like.

Alternative

We have also made a delicious basic risotto using an organic semi-lavorato (semi milled) rice of the old rosa marchetti variety, which we bought from Aldo Paravicini at Cascine Orsini, near Bereguardo; it’s not yet available here. If you do come across semilavorato Italian rice, follow the instructions above, with the following changes: You will need 1 to 2 cups more stock; cooking time for the rice will be about 40 minutes rather than about 20 minutes; and the vegetables should be added at the 25-minute mark. The dish will be creamy, the rice tender, with a wonderful taste of grain.