Jen and I have hypothesized that risotto, the ultimate Italian comfort food, is in the midst of a renaissance. A rebirth. A revival. A return to menus and homes worldwide! Most people hear the word “risotto” and think oooo…fancy. But it is upper crust only in the same way that anything homemade is special – making it takes time and patience. The ingredients are basic at best: rice, stock, wine and cheese. So why all the fuss?
Let’s skip over the fact that it is basically perfect in every way and get down to the details. This global comfort food from northern Italy has somehow been unfairly labeled as difficult (think soufflé, or for that matter JLo.) Chefs are regularly called out on cooking shows for ruining the risotto, so much so that it earned the name “the death dish” on Masterchef.
Let us be clear…MAKING RISOTTO IS NOT HARD. The key is the correct, high quality ingredients.
First let’s address the rice. It is important to use rice that can soak up plenty of liquid without becoming mushy. Grabbing whatever rice is currently in your pantry will most likely end in a risotto catastrophe. The most common risotto rice used in Italy is carnaroli, but in the US it is usually easiest to find arborio.
Next let’s talk about our favorite ingredient, wine. Wine is designed to add acidity to risotto, which means that a bright pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc is in order. However, even red wine may be used to create a rich, hearty risotto with sausage or beef. BONUS: most risottos only call for a half to full cup of wine, so there is plenty to sip while cooking!
Next we move onto the stock or broth. The higher quality the better! You can use chicken stock, beef broth, vegetable broth, even water…depending on the intended result.
Finally, the cheese, which takes an already creamy, decadent dish to the next level of food heaven. Freshly grated parmesan, romano or pecorino will all do the trick. However, why limit us to these traditional choices? The shrimp with goat cheese risotto recipe below is divine!
Ok, so why is risotto deemed difficult? Honestly, we aren’t sure, but our best guess is that it requires time, constant attention and patience. Basically it’s as needy as a dog with severe separation anxiety. For the rice to absorb the liquids properly, it must be added in small increments of half a cup to a cup at a time until each one is fully absorbed. And throughout this process, the risotto must be constantly stirred to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. If risotto had a personality type it would be classified under high maintenance. But as we mentioned before – you have an open bottle of wine to get you through the toil of stirring. How’s that for a silver lining?
The broth-adding process tends to go on for 15 – 25 minutes, in most cases. The only way to truly know if the risotto is done (aka al dente but creamy) is to taste it. If all of the broth has all been added, but the rice is still too hard, keep going using more broth or water until it reaches just the right consistency.
Now the fun part. This is where the true risotto renaissance is taking place…what shall we add?! The answer is nearly anything. Seafoods such as shrimp or scallops perform beautifully as does a heavier meat like duck or sausage. Vegetables may also take front and center with asparagus, sugar peas, beets, leeks, fennel and more. Dessert risotto replaces broth with milk and cheese with sugar which is gorgeous paired with the fresh fruit of the season. Whatever form it takes, risotto is sure to impress even the pickiest dinner guest.
Here are some of our favorites: