risotto demystified

January 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

making risotto is not hard, you just have to speak it’s language (it likes baby talk). seriously, it’s just a certain kind of rice (arborio) carefully cooked with patience and love. and it’s delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

not sure if you can proceed without hair-pulling hysterics? take the anal-retentive chef quiz (mostly just for laughs). if you score anywhere from 1 to a million bajillion points, you are so ready. though if you score a million bajillion points I hope this isn’t your first risotto rodeo.

the following recipe is Mrs. Martine’s, but it’s easily adaptable by varying the type of broth, cheese (or not), and stirring in some deliciousness like fresh peas, sauteed wild mushrooms, or grape tomatoes right before serving. digression: Mrs. Martine was a sweet italian woman who took my family under her wing during our 9 month stay in Sicily when I was 5. she’s probably the reason we all gained about 15 pounds; according to my mother, she was always sneaking me meringues, which sat in a big glass container in her dining room. I think my beliefs about food–that simple food is made delicious through loving preparation, and that food can be comforting and really enjoyable–came from Mrs. Martine.  I was too young to really appreciate our stay in Italy (I remember the persimmon tree outside our villa, my mom’s custard, and risotto di gorgonzola), the idea of elevating simple food into fabuously social multi-course meals has stayed with me.

risotto di gorgonzola

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 good-sized onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 6-8 cups broth (I use chicken)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 pound gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (if you’re lucky enough to have a choice, choose the dulce or sweet version unless you love the smell of feet. then try the picante or strongly flavored gorgonzola.)
  • possible add-ins: salt, white pepper, lemon juice, parsley for toppin’s
  • tools: heavy-bottomed pot, second pot for keeping broth warm, spoon, ladle

golden, translucent onions--ready for the rice!

warm the heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, then melt butter and saute onions. your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get the onions soft and almost translucent without browning them–so you’ll need to stir frequently. once the onions seem clear (as clear as an onion ever could be), you’re ready to add the arborio rice. also, start warming the broth in a pan (or heating it in the microwave)–you want it just about boiling before you add it.

see the color of the rice? as it cooks, it will get whiter.

stir in the rice, evenly coating it with the butter/onion mixture. begin adding hot broth, ladling just enough to barely cover the rice. you are now wedded to your stove for the next 30 minutes or so. (if you must leave the stove for any reason, even if it’s to do something brave and true like rescue a kitten know that the rice won’t care, and turn the heat down as low as possible until you return.) begin stirring. and herein lies the secret of risotto: don’t add too much broth at a time and always add it hot. I keep mine in a pan next to me on the stove, but you could also keep it hot in the microwave. don’t walk away from the risotto if at all possible. and for the love of all things holy: keep stirring. congratulations! you now speak the language of risotto.

add just enough broth so that it barely covers the rice

continue adding broth, a little at a time, and stirring. you’ll notice that when you first added broth, you added quite a lot, but as you continue cooking, you’ll add less and less each time. you’re trying to go to risotto’s happy place, adding just enough broth that it doesn’t dry out and stick to the pan, but not so much that it drowns.

the rice is white, al dente, and really sticks together when it's done

once the rice is cooked–which is about 30 minutes or until the arborio is still al dente (it holds its shape and maybe has just the teeniest crunch or bite to it) and it stops absorbing much liquid–you’re ready to add the gorgonzola. stir in the gorgonzola until it melts completely, increasing the heat if necessary, and taste. this is where you can add more salt, a little white pepper, and/or lemon juice if the flavor’s not quite right.

yum!

pile it onto a plate and mangia tutti! that means eat it all. which shouldn’t be a problem.

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