Simple, creamy, delicious, satisfying, savory, spicy, vegetarian, meat, dairy, fish, main, side, lunch, dinner. Risotto can be anything you want it to be, because risotto is a method of preparation, not a recipe.
In the winter, it has the stick-to-your bones quality that wards off the chill in the air. In the summer, it pairs with a simply grilled chicken breast for a simple evening meal. With saffron, it is the upscale classic accompaniment to Osso Buco, risotto Milanese.
I have made risotto with Israeli couscous, barley, orzo, butternut squash, asparagus, mushrooms, and whatever else might have been on hand. I have made rice pudding, which, for all intents and purposes, is a sweet risotto. It is perfectly neutral, perfectly textured, perfectly unctuous.
The only ingredient you need is imagination, and the patience to stir.
Classic risotto is made with arborio rice, which is a short-grained rice. This rice has a greater amount of starch in it than its long grain cousin, and it is the risotto method of cooking it that teases out the starch into the creamy binder. It is available pretty much everywhere.
I started with a sofrito of onion, garlic, sun-dried tomato, zucchini and red pepper.
All of it was diced small and added to a hot pan with butter and oil, one ingredient at a time. Once the mixture was cooked through, I set it aside.
I added butter to the pan, and once melted, I added the rice and gave it a quick stir.
Many recipes will tell you to use stock to cook the rice. Good advice, but for today I stuck with plain water. True water doesn’t add any flavor, but there was enough flavor already in the vegetables. Plus, I didn’t have any stock on hand [I know, it’s like I live in a cave, right?]. I turned the heat down to medium and added a couple of rosemary sprigs, just for fun. And I added a cup of water. And stirred.
The first addition of liquid starts to raise the temperature of the rice kernels to 100°C. Let the liquid cook until it is almost completely evaporated. Add another cup of liquid. The second addition of liquid will see the stat of the release of starches as the internal temperature of the rice starts to increase. You’ll feel the density change, and you’ll have to stir more frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the pan. After the second addition is almost completely evaporated, add the third cup. At this point. you’ll probably be stirring constantly until the dish is finished. By stirring, you’re also making sure that the rice is cooking evenly throughout the pan. The rice should be creamy, not sludgy, and a quick taste should give you firm kernels with no hint of toughness or crunch (in other words, “al dente“). You should be able to see each kernel separately.
I added the vegetables back into the rice, threw in a handful of chopped parsley, incorporated it completely, seasoned with salt and pepper, and lunch was served.
Ordinarily, the ratio of rice to liquid is 1:2. For risotto, it’s higher, mostly because it’s cooked uncovered, which allows for much more evaporation than the usual method of cooking rice. The truth is that it takes as much as it takes to make it creamy and chewy. The material of the pan, BTUs of your stove, whether you remember to adjust the heat, and other elements will affect the speed at which your risotto is cooked.