When the blustery winds of Winter come a calling, its time to sing the comforts of the hearth-a crackling fire, a glass of hearty red and steaming pots of warm food. Whether its snowing, or as it does here in Southern California, raining, Winter is the time for comfort food. Always near the top of that list, in my book, is Risotto, an Italian rice dish slow cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. Now of course, risotto can be made and enjoyed in all the seasons, (so can a roast) but to me its hearty, stick-to-the-ribs goodness bespeaks Winter.
Unlike most rice dishes that are cooked in a covered pot where the grain comes out steaming and does not stick together, risotto is cooked in a pot with the lid off. The variety of rice is different as well. Instead of the common long grain rice, risotto is made with short grain varieties, the most common being Arborio. Others are Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. These types absorb liquid more readily and also release starch when stirred. They become pearly white morsels swimming in a creamy sauce of delectable delight. Because the sauce is the matrix or glue that holds the mixture together, many other ingredients can be added. Mushrooms, fish, meats, vegetables, and crustaceans all can be used in a risotto.
The basic method is to briefly sauté the pearly grains in butter or olive oil to heat and coat them in a thin film of oil. At this stage, onion or shallots can be added to impart a slight toasty flavor. Wine or brandy is then added and reduced by half. Then a broth that has been simmering in another pot is added by half cups to the rice while gently stirring with a wooden spoon. At this point it must be stirred almost constantly. The stirring sheds off the starch molecules on the outside of the grains, which combines with the liquid to create the creamy smoothness. At the last stage grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is added to increase the smooth texture and add the last touch of flavor. All risottos are made utilizing this basic method and here is one of my favorites, Mushroom Risotto.
2 tbsp butter
5 or 6 cups of low fat chicken broth
2 cups mushrooms cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup brandy or dry white wine
1/3 cup minced shallots or onion
1 3/4 cup arborio or other risotto rice
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt/pepper to taste
chopped Italian Parsley as garnish
Heat chicken broth in a large pot until simmering. In another pot such as a Le Creuset 5 qt. cast iron French oven, melt butter and sauté the shallots and mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Remember to use a lower heat if using cast iron since it transfers heat very efficiently! At this point, add the rice and begin to stir coating the grains with the melted butter. Now add the wine or brandy (you can combine half and half if desired) and reduce by half.
At this point ladle a half cup of the simmering broth and stir gently with a wooden spoon remembering to keep the rice from sticking to the sides of the pan. When the broth is almost completely absorbed, add another half cup and keep repeating the process. Yes, it takes time. But doesn't anything of value take time? Time well spent! This process will take between 25 and 45 minutes. You will know when its done, the rice will be creamy but still chewy. Chewy but not crispy. It will be al dente. And there will be a creamy sauce that makes the rice look translucent.
Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add salt and pepper. Serve hot from the pot and garnish with parsley. Either an Italian white like a Pino Grigio or a fine red like a Borolo if served with sausages pairs with this delicious rice dish. Buon Appetito!
If you found this article usefull you can see many more, some with video and photos, along with music and art with an Urban twist at my site, John Rivera Urban Life. http://johnriveraurbanmusic.squarespace.com/about-me/
I am a musician, producer, writer, photographer, chef. I have a website, John Rivera Urban Life where I have showcased my artistic passions. My site is full of useful information about cooking, urban living, music, art and an 'anything goes' section where I talk about anything from politics to philosophy. Guest bloggers are sometimes featured.