A friend e-mailed me a while back complaining that she was having a terrible time attempting to make risotto. Whatever she did it wasn't creamy enough or the rice wasn't sufficiently cooked. She had a veritable litany of failed attempts. I'm no whiz when it comes to making this classic Italian food, but my Italian cooking mentor Christine Hickman is. So, I asked Christine for any help she might offer and she generously sent a detailed explanation of how to cook this fabled dish.
5 ½ cups (approximately) basic broth of choice--beef, chicken, vegetable or fish or 5 cups broth and 1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1 ½ cups rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter for finishing
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Bring the broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on top of the stove
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy 4-quart casserole over moderate heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until it begins to soften, being careful not to brown it.
Add the rice to the soffrito (the onion and butter mixture), and using a wooden spoon, stir for 1 minute, making sure all the grains are well coated. If you are using wine, add it now and stir until it is completely absorbed. Begin to add the simmering broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next ½ cup, reserving about ¼ cup to add at the end. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
After approximately 18 minutes , when the rice is tender but still firm, add the reserved broth. Turn off the heat and add the butter and Parmigiano and stir vigorously to combine with the rice.
· Use only Arborio Superfino (easirst to find), Canaroli (hardest of the three), or Vialone Nano (starchier and makes a denser, creamier risotto---overcooks easily). These are true risotto rices and are the only kinds that will produce the desired firm grain with a creamy sauce.
NEVER wash the rice. The starch is needed to make a creamy risotto.
· Choose a heavy pan with a non reactive lining.
· Keep the broth simmering slowly while you add it to the rice. This helps maintain a constant cooking temperature.
· Run your wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot to determine when each addition of broth is almost completely absorbed; you should be able to create a clear path behind the spoon. The total amount of broth used may vary slightly---within ¼ cup---depending on what other ingredients are added as well as the water content of the rice.
· Throughout the cooking process, keep the risotto at an even, lively but low boil to ensure the proper rate of evaporation of the broth. If the heat is too high, the liquid will evaporate too quickly and the rice will stick to the bottom of the pot. If the heat is too low, the broth takes longer to be absorbed, the grains of rice will lose their firmness, and the sauce will not be creamy.
· Taste the risotto frequently toward the end of the cooking process as the total amount of cooking time may vary within 2 to 3 minutes. Bite one grain in half; it should be chewy and resilient. A tiny white pin-dot should be in the very center of the grain.
· You can add simmering water if you run short on broth.
· Always be sure to use a low sodium broth, whether you make your own or buy a commercial brand.
· Always serve the risotto immediately, for as it cools it will start to loose its velvety consistency. Serve risotto in preheated plates.
· For convenience and proper timing, measure out all the ingredients in advance and combine the onion with the melted butter and oil in the pot. Have the broth ready to be heated and the ingredients for the final finishing set out and prepared for cooking.
PESTO WITH RISOTTO
Good luck with your risotto. It's the perfect comfort food for those of you suffering through this long, long winter.