When I began really cooking on my own more than anything I was drawn to the idea of mastering techniques that are considered daunting by many. I wanted to really break them down and see what it was that made them scary. My first project was risotto. I looked first to Ina Garten who is my culinary idol for her class and ease with both cooking and entertaining. Any time I am trying something new I like to browse a number of sources to compare and contrast their ingredients, cooking styles, and advice. I was most drawn to Ina's Spring Green Risotto from her Back To Basics cookbook. After working with this recipe and a few others I have fallen into a technique for basic risotto that I will share with you below along with suggestions of things to add in to customize it for yourself!
In a large saucepan or french oven heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, one medium diced yellow onion, and a couple diced garlic cloves (I say a couple because most recipes call for 2 large....I tend to use 4 or 5) over medium heat. Take the time to let the onions really cook down till they are translucent soft and sweet, about 5 -8 minutes. When they reach this point add in 2 cups of dry Arborio rice. In my experience this is about half the Trader Joe's package. Mix well letting the rice start to absorb any liquid released by the onions and garlic. Next add about a half cup of dry white wine. This often turns out to be whatever white wine I happen to have lying around. This begins the part of risotto making that turns many people off but is actually one of my favorite parts. The never ending stirring. Personally, I find this very therapeutic and a great way to unwind at the end of a hectic week. To slow down my mind, focus on the task at hand, and stir away my concerns. Slowly stir the rice as it absorbs the wine making sure it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan, as soon as it is absorbed almost fully begin adding the chicken (or veggie if you prefer) stock in small splashes. Most recipes suggest adding the stock by the 1/2 cupful. I am frankly to lazy to measure that so I just do one pour from the box around the pot so it looks brothy but not thin and begin to stir again. Many recipes also suggest the use of hot stock. I find that room temperature works just fine. Ultimately you will use one standard size box of prepared stock. If you want a recipe with stock made from scratch - well I don't doubt there are plenty out there!
For the next half hour pour and stir, stir and pour, until you have run out of stock and the rice has fully bloated and creamy pearls. Take your time to really let each stock addition absorb. Don't rush risotto, I promise you will not be pleased with your results. It is now time to add the cheeses. At the most basic I will add half an 8 oz container of mascarpone cheese to really add to the creamy texture and also lend a slight sweetness to the dish along with a generous hand full of Parmesan cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and your herb of choice and Voila! You are done! Of course this recipe is really just a canvas for you to create your own culinary artwork on. Risotto is a fantastic vehicle for any number of vegetables and proteins. A few of my personal favorites:
Wild Mushroom: Chop into bite sized pieces your favorite varieties of mushroom such as shitake, porcini (which most frequently come dried and will require some reconstituting), or my favorite Crimini (baby portabella). Saute the mushrooms with a little butter or olive oil (be careful not to crowd them in the pan so the don't get mushy) for 3 to 4 min till they have cooked through. Set them aside to be added about halfway through the cooking process.
Pancetta: Get some very thinly sliced pancetta from the deli of your grocery store. Chop it roughly into pieces and add to the pan along with the onions and garlic. You may want to saute at this stage a little longer than you would have with just the onion and garlic.
Quattro Formaggi (4 Cheese): along with the Mascarpone, and Parmesan I like to add some Asiago and goat cheese to create this one!
Mixed Veggie: I have tried both diced and grated zucchini and squash and I have yet to really decide which is better so try either for yourself! If you are going to grate fresh zucchini into the risotto I suggest waiting till just before the last addition of stock so it can maintain it's color. If you would like more bite sized pieces, either blanch or saute the pieces before adding them also around the same time. The same can be said for small broccoli florets, cubed butternut squash or other seasonal veg.
Get Creative and let me know how yours turns out!
Basic Ingredient List:
2 Table Spoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion
2 - 4 Large Cloves of Garlic
2 cups Arborio Rice
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1 32oz Carton of Chicken or Vegetable Stock
4 oz (Half a container) of Mascarpone Cheese
Parmesan Cheese to taste
Salt, pepper, and herbs to season (my favorite is thyme)