August 24, 2009

Risotto - Made Easy

I love risotto. I love that it looks creamy and tastes creamy, but no milk or cream are used in this wonderfully versatile Italian dish. The key to making risotto is selecting the correct type of rice, otherwise you will not get the texture desired. Technique is important and once you know how to do it, you can multi-task and whip up fresh risotto in no time.

For me it doesn't take a lot of effort to stir and incorpore the liquid, as long as you only add enough liquid for it to absorb quickly, about 1/2 c. at a time. I use vegetable broth or chicken broth made from the remains of a roasted whole chicken. You have to keep on med-high heat and watch when the liquid absorbs so that you are prepared to add more and incorporate it quickly. Don't overstir.

The other important aspect is to use olive oil and butter at the beginning to soften the chopped onion and garlic (if desired), sweat them out and do not brown. Then add the rice. Then the white wine, about 1/2 cup. You can add a little salt with the onion, but finish seasoning at the end. I do add fresh chopped rosemary during the cooking.

I keep adding the liquid and watch as the risotto absorbs. I don't like super wet risotto. The key is to be sure to not allow the rice to overcook so keep tasting periodically. You can salt and season just before it is done. And just before it is done remove from heat. At this point if you want to prepare ahead for fresh risotto with a meal immediately layer on a sheet pan. It will stop cooking. You can add cheese and extra wine when you heat ready to serve. The risotto will remain perfectly for adding roasted asparagus, garlic prawns, buttered mushrooms, etc...
When you are ready to serve prepare all of your ingredients (shrimp, mushrooms, etc...). Reheat or gently adding warm broth and a little wine if desired. Do not overstir. Remove from heat, add grated Pecorino Romano, making the mixture very creamy. Add more butter if desired (I usually don't do this). Taste for seasoning, add more salt and pepper if necessary. Add your ingredients: shrimp, mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, corn, etc...these should all be prepared and pre-cooked before adding.


Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. Its origins are in North Italy, specifically Eastern Piedmont, Western Lombardy, and the Veneto (where Vialone Nano comes from), where rice paddies are abundant. It is one of the pillars of Milanese cuisine. To be correctly described as a risotto a dish needs to be made following the established process described below; otherwise the dish is a rice dish. The main feature of a risotto dish is the maintenance of starch at the end of cooking that binds the grains together as a cream.

A high-starch (amylopectin), low-amylose round medium grain rice is used to make risotto. Such rices have the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch and so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Carnaroli and Vialone Nano and to a lesser degree Arborio. Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are considered to be the best (and most expensive) varieties, with different users preferring one over the other. They have slightly different properties: for example Carnaroli is less likely to get overcooked than Vialone Nano, but the latter being smaller cooks faster and some say absorbs condiments better. Rice designations of Superfino, Semifino (varietie Maratelli) and fino refer to the size and shape (narrowness) of the grains, not the quality.

Basic preparation
There are many different risotto recipes with different ingredients, but they are all based on rice of an appropriate variety cooked in a standard procedure.

Grains of arborio rice
The rice is first cooked briefly in butter or olive oil to coat each grain in a film of fat, this is called tostatura; white wine is added and has to be absorbed by the grains. When it has evaporated, the heat is raised to medium high and very hot stock is gradually added in small amounts while stirring gently, almost constantly: stirring loosens the starch molecules from the outside of the rice grains into the surrounding liquid, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. Tasting helps to indicate when the risotto is ready, a total time of about 17 minutes from when the wine evaporated. At that point it is taken off the heat for the mantecatura when diced cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese are whipped in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible. It may be removed from the heat a few minutes earlier, and left to cook with its residual heat but this requires fine judgment as to how much liquid will be absorbed by the rice while it waits.

Properly cooked risotto is rich and creamy but still with some resistance or bite: al dente, and with separate grains. The traditional texture is fairly fluid, or all'onda ("wavy"). It should be served on flat dishes and it should easily spread out but not have excess watery liquid around the perimeter. It must be eaten at once as it continues to cook in its own heat and can become too dry with the grains too soft.

by Ann-Marie
Makes 6 large servings
4-5 cups homemade or purchased chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
3-4 Tbls. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt

3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined (about 14 shrimp)
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tbls. butter
1 tbls. olive oil
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preparation for Roasting Asparagus

NOTE: I use Herbamare, a sea salt mixed with herbs, available at health food stores or other fresh food markets, available in the seasoning section.

Preheat oven to 450˚. Prepare cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Wash and dry asparagus. Trim tough ends. Cut into small 1 inch pieces. Toss in olive oil to cover and toss with chopped fresh garlic. Sprinkle with sea salt. Spread evenly onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. It should be a single layer. Put cookie sheet in oven. These should be done in about 10-min. Periodically watch that the asparagus are not browning too quickly. They should be tender yet not over-cooked. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large sauté pan heat oil, butter and garlic. Make sure pan is very hot and put in shrimp. Be sure to season shrimp with salt and pepper. Don’t allow garlic to burn. Cook shrimp just until pink on one side and turn. Test the shrimp to be sure they are thoroughly cooked, only about 2 minutes per side. Just before removing from heat add lemon juice, cook for another minute or two on high heat to absorb some of the liquid. You can chop shrimp in medium size pieces or leave whole as desired. Make just before adding to risotto.


Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.
Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Add chopped rosemary. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute, coating thoroughly. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup broth mixture and briskly simmer, stirring frequently, until absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy and tender but still al dente (it should be the consistency of a thick soup), about 17 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.) Be sure to taste the risotto periodically. There is a fine line when it is just about done so you must pay attention to it as it gets closer to being finished.

NOTE: If you want to prepare ahead stop at this point. Remove from heat. Add half the cheese.
Layer in a sheet pan and allow to cool completely. Store in covered container in refrigerator, up to 2-3 days. When you are ready to serve warm some broth and heat risotto, not over stirring.
Remove from heat and stir in Pecorino Romano, salt and pepper to taste. Add a little extra butter if desired. Stir in freshly cooked chopped shrimp. Stir in roasted asparagus. Add any other ingredients. Delicious fresh risotto ready to eat.

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