Risotto – it’s not as difficult as you think!

I know a lot of my friends, even the ones who cook, are intimidated by the thought of making risotto.  I’m here to tell you it isn’t hard.  It can be a little bit time consuming with all the stirring that it needs, but if you prep everything for your meal first, then get started on it, it’s a breeze (well, a warm breeze because you’ll be standing in front of the stove).  IMG_9800

pictured: Spring Vegetable Risotto with Seared Amberjack

The other thing I like about risotto is once you have the basic recipe, you can change it up, adding different veggies, using different broths and spices, to go with whatever else you are serving, or it can serve as a main dish itself.  My recipe for basic risotto is below, and after the recipe I list out several options for modifying the flavor.

And one more thing – traditional risotto does not use cream!  I get annoyed with restaurants who add cream to the dish, when it’s completely unnecessary (and for those of us who are lactose intolerant, it means we can’t eat it).  Risotto is made with Arborio rice – a very short, fat grained rice which is high in starch.  The constant stirring while it is cooking brings out the starch, which is what gives risotto its creamy texture.  You can find arborio rice in most grocery stores, as well as on Amazon:
RiceSelect Arborio Rice, 32-Ounce (Pack of 4)

Basic Risotto

½ cup onion, finely diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice, uncooked
1 tsp. sea salt
6 cups (48 oz.) broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, or seafood), warmed
½ cup white wine

Tools:  a sauce pan, a heavy bottom 4-5 quart pot, a wooden spoon, and a ladle. 

Pour the broth or stock into a sauce pan and heat on low.  You will want the broth to be warm when you add it to the rice.

Cook the onion in olive oil over med-high heat in a heavy bottom 4 to 5 quart pot, just until the onion starts to turn golden brown.  Stir in the rice, and cook for about 2-3 minutes, just lightly toasting the kernels.  Move the rice around with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Season with a bit of sea salt.

Add 2 ladles of broth to the pot of rice (about a half cup or so), being careful to keep your hand and arm away from the steam.  When you add this initial liquid into the hot pot of rice, it will produce a bunch of hot steam, and take it from me – a steam burn is not pleasant.  Once the steam dies down, stir the rice continually with a wooden spoon until the liquid is absorbed.  Add another ladle of broth, and stir until the liquid is absorbed.  You will continue to repeat this step over and over one ladle at a time, until all of the broth has been used and you have a pot full of creamy rice.  The rice should be tender when you are done, not crunchy in the middle.  If it isn’t done, that means you rushed through the process, perhaps cooking it too high.  I find medium to medium-high heat works best.  Be patient, and do not add additional liquid until the liquid has been completely absorbed into the rice.

*Note:  Some folks will tell you to stand there, continuously stirring the entire time.  I will tell you this is not necessary, as long as you pay attention and don’t get distracted, because if you do, the rice will stick to the bottom and burn.  You can safely step away to throw some chicken in the oven, if you need to, but return quickly and stir stir stir!  Remember, it’s the stirring that produces a nice, creamy risotto.

Once the last bit of broth has been absorbed into the rice, add the wine, and stir until it too has been absorbed.  And that’s it!  Your risotto is ready for whatever add-ins you want, whether it’s some freshly shaved Parmigiana cheese, or some shrimp, or veggies.  If you are adding in meat, seafood, or veggies, I recommend preparing them separately, then gently stirring them into the risotto once it is ready.

Lemon-Parm Risotto

  • Use chicken or vegetable broth when making the risotto
  • Stir in 2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel, and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh cracked pepper

Shrimp Risotto

  • Follow the steps for Lemon-Parm risotto above
  • Sautee shrimp in olive oil, season with salt, pepper and a little bit of garlic
  • Stir into the prepared lemon risotto and top with fresh parsley

Mushroom Risotto

  • Use beef broth when making the risotto
  • Sautee sliced baby bella mushrooms in olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
  • Add a splash of cooking sherry to the pan of mushrooms and let it cook down
  • Gently stir the mushrooms into the prepared risotto and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh cracked pepper
  • This is an excellent side dish with steak

Spring Veggie Risotto

  • Use chicken or vegetable broth to make the risotto
  • Sautee fresh English peas, thinly sliced leeks, and small pieces of sliced fresh asparagus in some olive oil. Season with sea salt and fresh thyme.
  • Gently stir into the prepared risotto and top with Parm

Spinach Artichoke Risotto

  • Use chicken or vegetable broth to make the risotto
  • Heat a can of drained artichoke hearts over medium high heat, season with salt and pepper. Stir in a handful of chopped fresh baby spinach and cook just until wilted.
  • Stir ¼ cup of mayonnaise into the prepared risotto, then fold in the artichokes and spinach along with a ½ cup of shredded parmesan cheese.

Seafood Risotto

  • Use seafood broth when preparing the risotto
  • At the end, stir in a ¼ cup of tomato juice
  • Sautee scallops and shrimp in olive oil, seasoning with salt, pepper, and some garlic. Prepare some lobster tail meat and stir it, along with the shrimp and scallops into the prepared risotto.  Top with some fresh parsley.

Caprese Risotto

  • Use chicken or vegetable broth when preparing the risotto
  • Stir halved cherry tomatoes, torn fresh basil and shredded mozzarella cheese into the prepared risotto
  • This is also good with cooked, diced chicken breast!

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