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~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~

IMG_8705Risotto is traditional Italian cooking at its best.  Risotto is more of a method than a recipe, and it requires respect.  There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.  Don't deviate from the method, don't take shortcuts and don't make substitutions.  Risotto cannot be rushed -- it requires patience.  It cannot be made in advance, it needs to be carefully watched, methodically stirred, and served immediately.  Risotto is done when it is done, and only the cook knows when it is done, but, when it is done right, it's a meal fit for a kind or a queen.

Risotto is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.

IMG_8699The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

The pot, the spoon & the rice.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium- grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key to risotto, never rinse the rice before cooking.

The stock -- meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice will be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice will be gummy.

(Here are my recipes for:  beef, veal, shrimp, chicken and vegetable stock.  Once or twice a year, I make a big pot of each one, portion it into 2-quart sized, glass containers and freeze it. Having stock on-hand at all times makes homemade soup or risotto fast-food in my kitchen.)

The add-ins -- cooked morsels of food that go in at the end.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable of choice is add-in perfection.

(Seasonally, I have a favorite combo of add-ins to risotto, and, I prepare them all via the same method.  Spring:  veal with asparagus tips.  Summer:  shrimp or lobster with sweet corn kernels. Fall:  chicken with mushrooms and/or peas.  Winter:  beef with mushrooms and/or carrots.)

The process -- risotto is time-consuming & complicated.

IMG_8627Yes and no.  Yes, risotto is time-consuming -- and you can't leave the stovetop, so, have your mise-en-place and pour a glass of wine or mix a cocktail before you start.  No, it is not complicated -- after you've made it a time or two and get "a feel" for it, you'll see and you'll agree.

When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy.  Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions a translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish.  Once the onions are sautéed, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs the mixture -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs the broth in concert with some of the broth evaporating, more broth is added, and so on, until the rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, or, to slightly less than the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, in smaller increments, until the rice reaches ideal doneness.  During the last seconds, the dish is finished off by stirring in a few pieces of cold butter some finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious, creamy consistency and also provides glistening eye appeal).     

Throughout the process the heat is carefully regulated, up or down, in a saucepan to keep the stock steaming, and, in the risotto pot, to initially keep the pot hot enough to sauté the onions, then to keep the rice mixture hot enough to bubble and simmer, but not so hot as to scorch.

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.

IMG_8689For the risotto & the finishing touches:

IMG_8538General rules of thumb for preparing 12 cups risotto:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.

My Perfectly-Prepared Chicken & Mushroom Risotto recipe:

IMG_8697"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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