“It took so long I thought you went back to Italy to get it” an obnoxious customer proclaims as she receives her order of seafood risotto in the “foodie film” Big Night. Risotto, a creamy rice dish from Northern Italy, carries a mystique that even experienced cooks fall prey to. It takes too long to cook. It is too hard to make. I’ll be a slave to my stove as I stir! Even my mother thought this way and because of it I was kept in the dark about the magical delights of risotto until adulthood. Who started these evil rumors? My guess is a selfish restaurateur who wants to keep their customers coming back for more. Believe me, risotto is not difficult to make. From the simplest preparations to more complex varieties, you will have no trouble whipping some up for yourself.

While discussing risotto with my friend Rebecca, she exclaimed, “I love risotto! It’s like mac and cheese for grown ups.” How right she is. This dish is the ultimate comfort food for big kids. (Little ones love it as well). The possibilities for flavor combinations are endless.

Here, I present a basic risotto recipe that can be personalized to create your ultimate feast. I also offer suggestions for my favorite combinations. For the liquid, I prefer a combination of half chicken broth and half water. Undiluted broth can overpower the other flavors in the risotto. Most recipes call for a small amount of dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc. For the purposes of this blog I left out the vino, but your risotto will have a more complex flavor if you replace the first 1/4 c of liquid with white wine.

Single Chef Cooking Tip: if you don’t drink alcohol or won’t go through a whole bottle of wine, buy the 4 packs of mini bottles or “juice boxes.”

“But wait Mel, you still haven’t told me how to free myself from the stove!” While all risotto recipes say you need to stir continuously, you can cheat. A couple of stirs with each liquid addition will suffice. Just make sure you stir the last bit of broth constantly. This is when the most starch is released.

“To eat good food is to be close to God,” declares Primo, the chef in Big Night. Nothing brings me closer to God than perfectly executed risotto.

Basic Risotto for One

Yields 1 cup risotto

1 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, divided

2 cups liquid (vegetable broth or 1/2 chicken broth 1/2 water)

1/ 4 c shallot, minced

1/4 c Arborio rice (found in most grocery stores)

1 Tbs or more Parmesan cheese, to taste

Salt and Pepper, to taste

simmer constinuously

simmer continuously

Tetonia Test Kitchen: Risotto Style

Bring liquid to a simmer in a small pot, then keep hot on a low burner. Melt 1 Tbs butter in a small sauté pan (6-8”). Add shallots and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat evenly with butter. Once rice is coated with butter, add 1/4 c hot liquid, simmer and stir. After liquid is absorbed, continue to add liquid 1/4 c at a time, stirring a bit, adding more liquid only after each addition is absorbed. Rice will become al dente between 1 1/2 c – 2 c of liquid. It will taste firm, but not crunchy. This takes about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 tsp butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Flavored Risottos

While rice is cooking, prepare the other ingredients in a separate pan. Once rice reaches al dente, add the additional ingredients and finish with butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

  • Roasted Tomato and Garlic Preheat oven to 350º. Cut 1 small tomato in half, brush with olive oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Wrap 2 cloves of unpeeled garlic in foil and place on baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove skin from tomato and garlic and chop. Add to cooked rice along with a pinch of sugar. Top with fresh basil.
  • Mushroom Fresh Mushrooms: Sauté 1/4 c minced onions in 1 Tbs olive oil until soft (3-5 minutes). Add 1/2 c finely diced mushrooms (use a combination of mushrooms, such as crimini, shitake, and/or oyster). Sauté until mushrooms are soft (3-5 minutes). Add to cooked rice. Dried Mushrooms: Reconstitute 1/3 c dried mushrooms in 1 1/4 cup boiling water. Use this water to replace 1 cup stock. Finely dice mushrooms and cook as directed above.
  • Sausage and Artichoke Heat 1/2 tsp olive oil in pan. Remove casing from a 4oz mild Italian sausage and cook 1/2 the sausage in oil breaking it into small pieces. (Refrigerate or Freeze the other half for use at another time). Add 1/4 c diced onion and cook until soft. Finely dice 1/4 c marinated artichoke hearts and add to onions and sausage. Cook one more minute. Add to cooked rice.
  • Risotto con Piselli If you have a dry red wine, such as a Cabernet or Zinfandel, replace the first 1/4 c of liquid with wine. Sauté /2 c diced onion in 1 tsp olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Add 1/2 frozen peas to thaw. Add to cooked rice.
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