Risotto is a staple in Northern Italy and is my ultimate comfort food. I’ve been eating it longer than I can remember and in fact, it is the very first dish my Dad taught me to make. He was lucky to learn straight from the source at a trattoria in Milan many years ago. As the story goes, he had just finished eating his lunch when the school bells rang and the place became flooded with small children in matching uniforms. It was during this time that he was able to get the chef’s attention, and soon enough, was getting his very own risotto lesson. The language barrier wasn’t a problem, as we all know the Italians speak with their hands! This isn’t a “throw it in a pot and walk away” type of dish. The technique for making it is very simple, yet your attention is required in order to make it just right. Arborio or Carnaroli rice is the most important ingredient — as these are very starchy, short grain varieties. Stirring and adding broth little by little not only aids in even cooking, but helps to release the starches from the rice kernel, creating the creamy texture that makes risotto such an amazing dish.
My Dad usually makes this same risotto with the occasional addition of peas and pancetta — simple but freakin delicious! Add an egg on top and you have yourself Carbonara risotto! Once you have it down you will find there are many variations to switch things up: adding vegetable purees or even whipped cream to make it more creamy. I’d love to hear some of your creative variations!
Sauce pot and ladle for heated stock, Wide shallow sauté pan (Le Creuset) or any dutch oven, wooden spoon
- Add stock to saucepan and heat. (keep a ladle close by) you want stock hot but not boiling.
- In separate pot (heavy bottom cast iron pot works best, like le creuset) heat to medium heat, add olive oil and diced onions and saute’ for 3–5 minutes until translucent. Keep stirring you don’t want to brown them! If they start to brown lower the heat.
- Add the rice and stir into the onions until it is fully coated with oil. Saute for 1–2 minutes until you start to smell that delish nutty toasted aroma, the color will slightly change off white but you do not want to brown or burn the rice.
- Add the wine and stir. Continue to cook until fully absorbed.
- Add a ladle of the chicken stock just before rice is dry and continue this step, ladle by ladle stirring gently to make sure it does not brown on bottom. Turn down heat if it begins to brown. Continue this for 20 minutes. Do not rush it, add the stock, stir while it absorbs and then add another just before it is dry.
- The rice will begin to get creamy, I recommend tasting the rice at 20 minutes. You are looking for tender rice but still slightly al dente like pasta, not mushy or crunchy.
- Add the butter and parmesan. Parmesan is salty so wait to add salt until you have added the parmesan and add a little salt at a time and tasting until you love it.
- I love freshly cracked black pepper at the table.
Things to remember
- Sauté onions until translucent, not brown. This often takes lower heat
- Coat the rice with oil, don’t brown it
- Don’t let the rice dry out, add your next ladle of broth before the previous has been fully absorbed; if you begin to burn the starches on the bottom, this something you won’t be able to recover from
- Cook low and slow, a simmer instead of a boil; otherwise you risk absorbing all of the broth before the rice is fully cooked.
- Don’t walk away, you will need to continue to stir and add broth for about 20 minutes. (have a glass of wine nearby to keep you company)
- Taste the rice near the end to get a feel for how the rice transforms.
- Parmesan cheese is quite salty so make sure you taste the risotto before you over season; if this does happen don’t fret, a nice squeeze of lemon will be your savior.
- Start with more stock than you need. It is easier to save leftover stock then to heat more in a pinch.