Despite my lack of posts on the cuisine thus far, Italian food is hands down my favorite genre – both to cook and to eat. I think Italian cooking is very similar to Southern cooking – dishes vary from region to region, ingredients vary depending on availability and freshness, people tend to follow their familial traditions – and therefore everybody does things a little bit differently, and the same dish is unique depending on who is preparing it. Today I’m making rice – specifically, risotto.
The complete recipe, with measurements can be found at the bottom of the post
Mmm, risotto….that simple to prepare, yet complex in flavor, creamy (but not mushy) quintessential Italian rice dish. Do not be afraid of risotto. Yes, it does require you to commit 30 minutes of your life, entirely to it. Yes, you will need to turn off all cell phones and give risotto your undivided attention. You will be required to tend to it’s very specific needs. You will pour and stir and pour and stir and risotto will still want more from you. But in the end, risotto promises to be worth it – knows you will not regret getting into this short lived relationship – and guarantees you will be back for more. So get a glass of wine and your favorite wooden spoon (you don’t have a favorite wooden spoon? What a shame…) and let the affair begin.
First we need to pick out some rice. Almost every recipe calls for Arborrio – a fat, short grained Italian rice. Arborrio is great – but it’s kind of expensive. And when I wanted to make risotto on Christmas day, I didn’t have enough of it….so I mixed the half cup I did have with half a cup of regular old long grain rice (Gasp!!). I was worried about the texture (one absorbing liquid or cooking more quickly than the other) but the results were great! Now that I’ve been forced to use something other than Arborrio, I realize I can use whatever rice I want! I got a nice bag of Carolina Gold at Christmas from my mom. It’s kind of nutty, mildly aromatic short grained, and harvested locally….seems the perfect pick for this dish. In fact, why didn’t I think to use this on Christmas day?!
Now we need to talk about flavor. Rice on it’s own is pretty bland, and I promised you complex flavors. That complexity will come with a little onion and garlic, a splash of wine, a handful of parmesan cheese, but most of all from good stock. Ideally, you should use home made chicken (or vegetable) stock – the richness of flavors (or lack thereof) will greatly impact the results of this dish. But I understand you may be busy and have a life outside of your kitchen (what’s that like!?). So if you must buy stock-in-a-box, please take a few minutes to make a good decision about which box to grab. Start by eliminating anything that says chicken “flavored”. We want our stock naturally flavored, and telling you it’s “flavored” implies they put something unnatural in it – no bueno. Then find one that says “stock” (cooked with the bones; more flavor) as opposed to “broth” (less flavorful). Next, look at the ingredients list. Chicken, celery, onion, garlic, water, salt….all good ingredients. Artificial ingredients like dextrose (which is basically corn syrup) and excessive amounts of sodium should most definitely be avoided. Ok, enough yacking, let’s get to cooking already!
Start by pouring your stock into a pot, and get it heated up. I like to boost the flavors by adding in a handful of mushrooms, a garlic clove, some peppercorns, and fresh thyme. Let the stock steep, but don’t boil it. After about 30 minutes, strain out the stock. Return it to the pan and keep it hot.
In a small pan, we need to start our mushrooms. I am using crimini (baby portabella). I chop mine small, but feel free to just quarter or slice them. Heat up a little butter over medium heat and saute some shallots and garlic. Add in the mushrooms and fresh thyme, and allow the mushrooms to cook their liquid out. When the mushrooms seem to be getting dry, add a little salt and pepper and a splash of white wine. Put a lid on it and turn off the heat (but leave the pan on the burner).
Now for the main event – the risotto. Cancel all plans for the next 30 minutes. Send the spouse outside with the kids. If you need to go to the bathroom, go now…..everybody ready? Start by melting butter with olive oil over medium heat, in a heavy bottom pan. Saute the onions until soft, but not turning color. Add in your rice, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic. Stir to coat all the rice grains with the fat. Keep stirring regularly. As the rice cooks it will start to become translucent You want the outer layer of rice to be see through, while the inside is still white.
Add in a cup of white wine and keep the bottle close by (you may need a refill soon…). The creamy texture of the risotto comes from the stirring method. Slow, almost continuous stirring is key to great texture. As you stir you will notice the wine evaporating out. Before it gets too dry, add some stock – about half a cup. Keep stirring, and add more stock. Keep stirring, and add a little more stock. Keep stirring and….ok, you get the point.
When you’ve cooked in about half of your stock, it’s time to start tasting. There is a fine line between perfect and mushy – so regular sampling is important. You want the rice to he cooked through, but with some give to it. If I were Italian, I’d call it “al dente”. But since I’m Southern, I’ll just say it needs a little bite to it. Keep stirring and adding stock as needed. You’ll notice that the rice isn’t absorbing the liquid as quickly, and that you don’t need to add as much liquid each time – that’s good, we are getting close to eating time!
Now that the rice is perfectly cooked, take the pan off of the heat. Add in the mushrooms, some butter, and the parmesan. Give it a good stir and put the lid on it – it needs a few minutes to itself before you indulge yourself.
To make this a meal fit for Sunday, I’m going to serve it with steak and spinach. Ribeye is on sale, and that sounds good to me. Marinate it is some Dale’s, and grill it to your desired temperature. I like medium for a ribeye. Allow it to rest, then slice it thin, against the grain. For the spinach – just a quick saute in olive oil with sliced garlic. At the end, drizzle over some balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Both are quick and easy, and pair nicely with the risotto.
- 1 T. Butter
- 1 Shallot, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 C. Crimini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 tsp. Thyme
- 1/4 C. White wine
Saute shallots and garlic in butter. Add in the mushrooms and thyme. Cook until moisture has all been released. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in wine, cover with a lid, and turn off heat.
- 3 T. Butter (divided)
- 1 T. Olive oil
- 1/4 C. Onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 C. Rice
- 1 T. Thyme
- 1 C. White wine
- 3 – 5 C. Chicken stock
- 1/4 C. Parmesan, freshly grated
Warm chicken stock on the stove. In a heavy bottom pan, heat up 2 Tablespoon butter and olive oil. Over medium heat, saute onions until soft. Add in garlic, rice, salt, pepper and thyme. Cook rice, stirring regularly, until grains are mostly translucent.
Add in wine. Stir constantly until moisture has evaporated. Pour in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of stock, and continue to stir until evaporated. Continue adding stock and stirring until rice is cooked through, but still al dente.
Remove pan from heat. Stir in 1 Tablespoon butter, mushrooms, and parmesan. Cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.