I cannot count the number of times people have said this to me: Risotto is too hard! You have to, like, stir it, and then your arm hurts… it’s just like going to the gym!
Clearly you’ve never kneaded a loaf of bread, made pasta dough by hand, beaten a meringue with a whisk, or made buckets of Swiss Meringue Buttercream without a stand-mixer. Of all the kitchen tasks that require strength and stamina, stirring a pot of rice simply isn’t one of them. Unless, I suppose, you’re making an industrial-sized quantity of it, but let’s assume you’re not.
The purpose of stirring risotto (yes, constantly for the entirety of its cooking), is two-fold. First, to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and second, to gently loosen the starches on the exterior of the grains, which are what make risotto so creamy. It doesn’t take much — we’re talking gentle motions, here — and you won’t be penalized for switching hands or stopping for a few seconds.
If you’ve made risotto before and struggled with having to stir it, please tell me. I want to understand what I’m missing, here.
To further dispel the myth that risotto is difficult to make, think about this: standing over a pot of rice and stirring virtually eliminates the possibility of burning, or otherwise messing it up. Get all your ingredients prepped ahead of time so they’re ready to add to the pot, and thirty minutes later dinner is served.
It’s FAK Friday (Feeding my Appetite for Knowledge) and this week is all about risotto – what it is, how it works, and how to make it. If you’ve been put-off from making risotto in the past, I encourage you to give it a try. It really is easier than you think!
The inspiration for this risotto came directly from the Farmer’s Market, which is finally beginning to look like Spring. Bunches of fresh asparagus, the sweet scent of basil, and a bustle of people greeted me the moment I arrived. It also served as the perfect excuse to use up some of the Homemade Stock I made last week. It doesn’t get much better than that.
When it comes to making risotto, there are two key elements. The rice (of course), and the technique, which is equally important. Because this is FAK Friday, I’ve done my research on both. Here’s what you need to know:
Rice comes in many different varieties, each with their own unique properties. For instance, long-grain or wild rices may be perfect for pilaf, but not so great for, say, rice pudding. The reason?
All rices contain high amounts of starch (glucose) in the form of Amylose and Amylopectin. Without getting too scientific about it, amylose is a long, straight chain of glucose which is not water soluble. It is this starch that makes long-grain rice fluffy, and keeps each grain separate. Amylopectin, on the other hand, is not so straight, and has many branches reaching out from it which allow it to absorb more water and be broken down more easily. This is what makes short-grain rice creamy, sticky, and sometimes mushy if we aren’t careful. In general, the longer the grain of rice, the less amylopectin it will have, the shorter the grain the more amylopectin.
In order to make risotto creamy, therefore, we must use a short-grain variety of rice. Arborio is most common here in the States, but Carnaroli, Maratelli, and Vialone Nano are also used, among others.
|This photo is dedicated to my friend Carey over at Reclaiming Provincial|
The technique used to make risotto is also important for creating the lush, creamy texture of the dish. All risottos start with the same procedure no matter what the ingredients you choose to use, so understanding the basic technique will make it easy to adapt a given recipe, or create your own.
A risotto starts with bringing several cups of stock (vegetable, meat, or fish stock can be used) to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, onion, garlic, shallots, etc. are sauteed in butter or olive oil. The rice is then added, and gets stirred for several minutes until the grains begin to turn translucent around the edges. Next, a bit of wine (white or red), is added. Once most of the wine has evaporated, a ladle full of the hot stock gets poured over the rice, which is stirred gently and constantly. Stirring helps prevent the rice from sticking to the pan, and also loosens the starches on the outside of the grains, creating a thick broth. Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, another ladle full is added. This process continues for about twenty minutes, or until the rice is just barely al dente, at which point it is removed from the heat so as not to become over-cooked. In the last few minutes of cooking, vegetables (usually steamed or sauteed before-hand), herbs, and any other ingredients are added in. Meat and seafood can be added to make a more filling dish. Risotto is typically finished with a pat of cold butter and a handful of cheese being stirred in at the end to tie everything together and make the dish extra creamy. Alternatively, you could use a dollop of ricotta, the yolk of an egg, or a splash of cream to achieve a similar richness. Risotto that has cream added to it is called mantecato.
Properly cooked risotto should be thick and creamy, but not mushy. When served, it should spread easily on the plate but have no excess liquid around the edges. Personally, I prefer my risotto a little dryer than is traditional, so feel free to add more or less liquid to your liking.
The Fiancé likes his risotto even dryer than I, and (rebel that he is) likes to let it form a golden crust at the bottom of the pan. This is not at all traditional of risotto, but is similar to a Spanish paella, where the caramelized crust, called a socarrat, is considered a delicacy.
Recipe Notes: Before starting your rice, get all of your ingredients prepped and ready. Having everything nearby will make easy work of the whole dish.
I made this risotto with some of the Homemade Chicken Stock I made last week (you can find that tutorial, here), but vegetable stock would work just as well. I recommend using homemade stock if you can, but if you choose to use store-bought be sure to get ‘low-sodium’ stock.
Feel free to swap out or change the ingredients to your liking — if you aren’t a fan of mushrooms, leave them out. If you don’t like asparagus, try bell peppers, broccoli, or snap peas instead.
Spring Risotto with Shaved Asparagus
2 TBSP olive
2 TBSP butter, divided
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, chopped (or whatever mushrooms you like)
1 cup Arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
1/2 cup white wine (use what you like)
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, blanched*
1/4-1/2 tsp. fresh lemon zest
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (plus more for garnish)
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
*For this recipe I cut off the tips of the asparagus, then held the stalk at the woody end and used a vegetable peeler to make long ribbons. I then blanched the asparagus tips and shaved asparagus in hot water very quickly, and then moved them to a bath of ice-water to stop the cooking. This made them perfectly tender and bright green. I added the tips to the risotto, and served the shaved asparagus as a garnish on top. Alternatively, you could blanch or steam the asparagus whole and chop it before adding to the risotto.
1. Place stock in a sauce-pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. In a separate pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, one TBSP butter, shallot, mushrooms, and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1-2 minutes, then add the rice and cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Add the wine and continue to stir gently until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. This should happen pretty quickly.
4. Add one ladle full of stock to the rice mixture, and stir gently until almost all of the liquid has absorbed. This will take just a few minutes. Once most of the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle full of stock, and continue to stir. Repeat until most of the stock has been used, then give the rice a taste — it should be just a little chewy still.
5. When the rice is almost done, add in the peas, asparagus tips, lemon zest and juice, sun dried tomatoes, and basil.
6. Once the last ladle full of stock has been added and the rice is just barely al-dente, remove the pan from the heat and add one TBSP butter and the Parmesan cheese. Stir well until incorporated, then season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. If you prefer your risotto a little looser, add a bit more stock or water.
7. Top with shaved asparagus and serve immediately. Bon Apetit!