Tonight we had pot roast and risotto. Growing up we did not ever have risotto because we are Irish and Irish people do potatoes. Potatoes in many, many forms. Around here risotto became popular in Italian restaurants in the 1990s and I wondered where this had been all my life. That and polenta. Why was this being hidden from me simply because I have a potato heritage. Nonsense I tell you, sheer nonsense. Other cultures must share their carbs.
Once the secret was out I had to learn how to make it. I was told it was fussy and difficult but it isn’t really. Like most comfort dishes (peasant food really) it takes a little more time and love but it is not complicated.
Start with the correct rice. The rice matters. The creaminess of risotto isn’t due to any cream but rather the starch content of the rice. Restaurant chefs use carnaroli rice which is starchier and a larger grain than the rice I use. It’s not widely available and expensive to order online. Risotto should not be expensive. I use arborio which is available in supermarkets and relatively cheap.
This two pound container was about six dollars. I’ll get three dinners and a few lunches out of it so that makes it pretty economical for me.
You will find a million recipes for risotto and I think that is because everyone just has to make it their own. It’s one of those things that you follow a recipe for once and then you just make it the way you want. One constant for risotto is that you must be present for the whole cooking process because you must be constantly stirring. This is where an appropriately tall child comes in handy.
This is how I make risotto (cheesy rice as the younger kids call it). Equal amounts of butter and olive oil in the pan. When all melted and blended toss in a diced onion. medium size. I never tell the children there is an onion in there and no one remarks upon it. If they knew about the onion there would be fussing. Sshhh about the onion.
Sprinkle a little salt over this and sweat the onions until translucent. Then I toss the rice right on top and mix it in until it’s all covered in butter/oil and onion. Then I stir this for three to four minutes to give the rice a change to get buttery and to open up the nuttiness of the rice. If you skip this step you will be sad for days that your risotto has less depth than it could. Depth is important in risotto.
Just keep stirring, just keep stirring… that goes on in my head in Dory’s voice from Finding Nemo.
Now the magic starts. Add chicken stock. It can be beef or veggie or fish stock, whatever you like but add a good cup to cup and a half and just keep stirring. In about five or six minutes the liquid will be absorbed and you need to add more. Just keep stirring (you’re hearing Dory’s voice now as well, aren’t you?).
This is what you are going to be doing for the next half hour or so. Medium low heat and stirring. When the rice begins to plump up and the stock is absorbing but in a creamy way, you are nearly there. Now it’s time to add the cheese. Parmesan cheese is traditional. I use about a cup for this recipe. It’s worth it to get the good stuff from the deli counter. I buy a wedge and ask them to grate it there, if there is no line, or I’ll do it at home in my food processor. I’d rather have them do it because it’s free and I hate cleaning that thing.
Stir it right in adding a little more stock or a splash of good white wine. It gives the flavor a bit of punch but if you don’t have wine, that is fine, your risotto will still sing.
A little parsley on top, fresh is better but it’s winter and I only had dry, and you can serve it just like this and it’s a wonderful lunch. Tonight we are having it for dinner alongside Leila’s pot roast. This pot roast recipe has a kind of Italian flair to it so the risotto is a nice side. I would have taken a picture of a nice plate of food but I had to go pick up a kid and when I got home the screaming masses had eaten most of what was there.
If you have left over risotto, and please make enough that you have leftovers, you can make rice balls the next day. Rice balls are the best thing to come from Italian American culture since Dean Martin. You just mix a beaten egg with the cold rice. Dampen your hands, roll into small balls (some people put a hunk of cheese in the middle but that’s work and I like easy), dip in an egg bath, roll in bread crumbs and fry until golden brown and the angels sings. Serve with marinara sauce or plain. They are wonderful.
You could also throw left overs in your chicken or beef stock with whatever bits of leftover veggie and meat you have and voila! Zuppa!
2 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cups aborio rice
1 qt (or so) stock of your choice
1 cup of parmesan cheese
salt/pepper to taste
Melt the butter with the oil over a medium heat. Add onions and a dash of salt and stir until onions are translucent. When the onions are ready toss in the rice and stir until it’s fully coated. Continue stirring until the rice is heated through (about 3 minutes) and then about a cup/cup and a half at a time add stock. Wait until it’s absorbed before adding more. The flame should be medium/low. When the rice is plumped up and creamy, and a little al dente, toss in the cheese and stir. Don’t stop stirring. If you have a nice white wine add it now, or a little more stock. Once you’ve achieved creamy perfection serve immediately. My kids like a pat of butter on their portion. You can also add mushrooms to the onions if you are a mushroom family. My kids would run screaming if I did that.