Sunday, April 11, 2010

Risotto Is for People...

Risotto is for people who like to stand around and fuss over things. You have to stir constantly for twenty minutes or more, and you might as well get comfortable at it. Risotto is for the standing meditation. The zone-out. The long phone call to someone who talks your ear off: “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Sure, Grandma. Yeah… No, you’re not using up all my long distance. I’m making risotto.”

Risotto is for people who haven’t been grocery shopping. Let’s see… I have half a carton of vegetable broth. I have a handful of dried mushrooms. I have two celery stalks, part of a jar of tomatoes, some leftover herb butter, and one shallot. What the hell am I going to do with one shallot?!

Risotto is for people who need to make something really, really good but who don’t have all the food, time, or money in the world. Maybe you have a lot of one thing, or maybe you have only a little of a bunch of things. Risotto is how you lengthen and broaden that one thing, or meld those many things, until it tastes like the whole world is made out of them. You pour on liquid and stir as the rice absorbs it and the heat reduces it. The dish builds up layers of flavor as your ingredients dissolve, transform, and reconstitute into something richer and greater than the sum of their parts.

Risotto is for people who want to impress someone. You can say, quite honestly, “Look, I worked over a hot stove for you. Now my whole house smells like the bliss I feel with you every day, and the savor of this dish is as deep and intense as my love for you, my cherished one.”

Eh, and if she still won’t come over after an overture like that? Risotto is for people who wouldn’t say no to a second helping.

Risotto alla Whatever
Make it up as you go, or make the same one I made. I don’t think you could screw up this recipe if you tried. The only real essentials are rice, liquid (even just plain water), and maybe butter and cheese. If you have these few things on hand, you’ll always be minutes away from something wonderful to eat.

2-3 T olive oil
Some aromatics (I used 2 celery stalks, a shallot, and a small onion, all diced up)
2 to 2½ c Arborio rice
Some minced garlic, or not (I used 2 cloves)
Some vegetables that can cook a long time (I used a handful of dried mushrooms reconstituted in 2 c water)
A quart of canned tomatoes, or not
Some quick-cooking vegetables (I chopped up fresh local spinach to make 2 cups)
Total of 8 c liquid (I counted the canned tomatoes as 3 cups, drained the mushrooms to make 2 cups, added 2 cups vegetable broth, and topped it off with a cup of water.)
Butter and grated cheese (I had ⅓ c leftover herb butter and ½ c grated Parmesan.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put your liquid in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. (I didn’t include the quart of tomatoes.)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the aromatics until they begin to turn translucent. Toss in the dry rice and let the stirring begin: sauté it until it is translucent and beginning to turn gold, maybe 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic if you’re using it and stir a minute or two more.

Toss in the long-cooking vegetables and quart of tomatoes, if you’re using either of those. Otherwise start ladling in your simmering liquid about a cup at a time. Stir, stir, stir until the liquid is absorbed. This takes maybe five minutes or so. When the rice is the consistency of stiff oatmeal or thick tapioca pudding, add another cup of liquid.

Keep stirring, reducing, and adding more liquid until the rice is about al dente. You will probably only have a cup or less of liquid left in the simmering pot. Add the quick-cooking vegetables and a half cup or so of liquid. Stir and reduce until your vegetables are cooked, adding a bit more liquid if needed. Stir and stir like a brave soldier. Don’t give up now. A spoon should stand up in the risotto; it should remind you of stew but not of soup. Take the pan off the heat and stir in butter, cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Doesn’t it taste amazing? Mangiamo!


  1. Great post! I don't think I've really given Risotto a fair shot because I've always thought I was too impatient and short on time. Perhaps I will reframe, as you have suggested, and use the time to daydream or catch up with a friend. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Hey, Steph - it doesn't actually take all that long. Just a nice little break in the day topped off with a bowl of yum.


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