I don’t understand why risotto is considered by so many to be an up-scale, complicated dish. When I see a big bowl of creamy, cheesy grains, I think “comfort food.” That’s exactly what risotto is: warm, comforting and satisfying. It is really only a few steps removed from the Asian breakfast dish congee or even rice pudding.
And risotto is certainly not as difficult to make as cookbook writers might lead you to believe. You don’t have to stir endlessly or time things just right to make great risotto. Like any classic recipe, you can customize risotto endlessly to come up with the perfect dish to comfort you.
Risotto with Asparagus Tips and Mint
Risotto is traditionally made with Arborio rice, but any medium-grain rice can be substituted. You will need 1 cup Arborio or other medium-grain rice for 2 servings; 2 cups for 4 servings. If you get tired of the rice version, try making risotto with other grains or even pasta. I’ve had great success using this method with orzo.
For every 1 cup of rice, you will need 2½ cups broth, 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil, ½ cup grated Parmesan and ½ cup wine. White wine is traditionally used, but red is acceptable, particularly if you are adding strongly flavored ingredients.
Bring the broth to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce to low but keep warm.
Meanwhile, melt the buter or heat the oil in a wide, deep saute pan over medium. Add some minced aromatics to saute. Onion and garlic are both traditional, but any aromatics may be added, such as shallots or mushrooms. Make your choices depending on the other flavors you are using.
Which brings us to the substance of the dish. I think risotto is best when one or two ingredients are allowed to “star”; in other words, don’t load it down with too many extras. When you add the other ingredients depends on how you’d like to cook them. Some may be added with the aromatics to brown before adding the rice and broth. Others should be added with the broth to simmer. Risotto made with Arborio rice takes about 20 minutes to cook, so time the additions accordingly. For instance, if you’re using asparagus, wait until the risotto has nearly finished cooking to add the tips, so they don’t get too mushy.
Here are some suggestions for risotto additions:
- Add before liquid to saute: artichoke hearts, carrots, celery, chicken, endive, leeks, parsnips and turnips
- Add with liquid to simmer: asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, clams, green beans, mussels, peas, sweet potatoes, winter squash and zucchini
Of course, these are just starting points. Please always feel free to experiment. Prepare most additions by slicing or cubing into small, bite-sized pieces that will cook quickly.
The broth is simmering and the aromatics and other ingredients are sauteing. Now add the rice. Stir it around in the fat until it is coated and the edges become translucent, 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the wine and stir until it has been absorbed by the rice. Ladle in about 1 cup broth and let the rice simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed. Note that you do not have to stir constantly; just check on it every so often and give it a good stir.
When the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add the remaining broth ½ cup at a time, stirring more often now, until the rice is cooked through. You may not need all of the broth. Tasting the rice is the best way to determine if it is done; it will be plump and tender, with no chalky center.
Now stir in the Parmesan and some fresh herbs and lemon zest to finish the risotto. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?