Risotto risotto risotto. Can you say classy comfort food? Because really, that’s what we are talking about here. Straight up comfort food that has been masquerading as some fancy dish filled with scary, fancy ingredients.
Or maybe there is some other reason you don’t make risotto. That is, Reader, if you’ve never made it before. If you have, continue on and disregard my pleas to give risotto a try.
But really, it’s not complicated at all. Sure, it needs some time and a little bit of love, but there is nothing difficult about the process. It has four basic ingredients–just four! Everything else is bells and whistles. A few bells or whistles are nice, but you don’t have to go overboard or make lots of additions to boost your risotto.
First: let’s review the risotto basics. Risotto is a rice dish cooked in broth. The rice used is short-grain rice (or sometimes medium-grain), which means it has a high ratio of amylopectin to amylose, which simply means that it is starchier. There are a variety of different rices that are suitable for making risotto, though Arborio is probably the most common. The starch that is lost during cooking mixes with the broth to create a creamy sauce, though no actual cream is used. The basic ingredients are butter, rice, broth, and onion.
There are a few things to keep in mind when making risotto. To begin with, you don’t want anything to brown. You don’t saute the onions, you sweat them. The rice shouldn’t start to brown like you’d want for a pilaf, it should turn translucent. This means it’s soaking up the butter, which means it is becoming slightly water resistant, which means the starch will release slowly, creating a wonderful risotto. Stirring or agitating the rice is necessary because it causes the kernels to rub against each other and “scrub” off some of the starch. You can’t add too much liquid or else the kernels will never touch and the starch won’t be let out. Lastly, the amount of liquid needed is by no means an exact science. The original recipe called for 3 1/2 cups, I needed five total.
One other great thing about risotto is that it is so easy to customize. You could even make plain risotto and then set out a bunch of add-ins for something like a make-your-own sundae bar, only with delicious risotto. Parmesan cheese is traditional (about one ounce grated per cup of rice), are lemon juice and lemon zest. Black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg also work well. Goat cheese adds a nice goat cheese-y flavor. All of these flavorants should be added right before serving, though of course you should taste before sending the dish to the table. Any cooked vegetable can be added towards the end as I’ve done with my mushrooms here.
Adapted from Alton Brown
Serves 3-4 as a light meal, or more as a side dish
olive oil (or butter) for sauteing mushrooms
6 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
2 small onions, chopped
1 T butter
1 cup short-grain rice
3 1/2 – 5 cups of chicken broth (use vegetable broth for a vegetarian dish; you can also sub 1/2 cup of broth for white wine)
Salt, to taste
Extra flavoring suggestions: black pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, goat cheese, parsley
First, saute your mushrooms in olive oil or butter. Set aside.
In a medium pot, heat chicken broth (and wine, if using). This pot will remain on low heat as long as there is liquid in it.
In a medium heavy bottomed pot, sweat onions in 1 T butter over low heat. When they begin to turn translucent, add rice. Cook 2-3 minutes, watching to make sure nothing browns. When the rice becomes translucent around the edges, add just enough liquid to cover the rice. Stir occasionally until most of the liquid is gone. When you can draw a line through the rice and see the bottom of the pan without it immediately being covered again, add more liquid. Continue doing this until the rice is tender. Stir in mushrooms as you add your last amount of liquid. This does take some guesswork, as the amount of liquid varies, but basically add the mushrooms when your rice is very close to being done. When it is done–tender with a creamy sauce, think oatmeal consistency–add in salt, pepper, lemon zest, etc.