Risotto is one of our family's comfort foods. In the realm of Italian Foods, this ranks right up there with Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Spaghetti alla Carbonara. It may even outrank them since risotto often means Supplì are not far behind.
I have a basic recipe that can be changed depending on what you are serving with it, or what is on hand. I would not say we are "strict traditionalists" when it comes to risotto, but that does not mean I am not full of strong opinions! I do reject a fair bit of modern notions when it comes to risotto; why fix what isn't broken? I do not like a lot of the fusion recipes out there but to each their own. I reject the notion of Risotto alla Carbonara. While we are at it... why do some people put cream and peas in their Spaghetti alla Carbonara! It is so wrong. Sorry. There are some choices we make because of who we are feeding, or what we will be doing with the risotto, and there are some choices we make because it's just better.
Use Carnaroli Rice.
Yes, Arborio Rice is the most available, and it's fine... it's just fine. I enjoy this article: 3 Types of Rice to Use for Risotto (and Which to Skip). I agree with the assessment of Carnaroli rice. The biggest reason I like it is that it is very forgiving. I usually have the kids help, particularly in ladling and stirring in the broth. Arborio goes from perfect to mushy very quickly, in my opinion, whereas Carnaroli can take a lot more liquid before it moves away from al dente.
Use the Right Wine.
Un-oaked dry white wine... unless you use something else. Honestly, there are a lot of choices. You want to use some sort of alcohol to dissolve alcohol-soluble flavors... and just make it all taste good. If in doubt, use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio. Both are very good, and good bottles are not real expensive. Do NOT use cheap cooking wine. Use something that you would be willing to drink by itself. 2 Buck Chuck is borderline, depending on the day. Avoid Chardonnay, it's too oaky. Leftover Champagne is a great choice, just nothing too sweet, and then you would call it Risotto allo Champagne. Barolo or another dry red is another great choice... then you would have Risotto al Barolo.
Use Quality Ingredients.
Bon Appetit's Vegetable Stock Recipe and a combination of Michael Ruhlman's and Judy Rodgers's recipes for broth.
In the above picture, I am using dried garlic and shallots. I have two reasons for this. First and foremost... I couldn't be bothered to cut up fresh ones. Second... Sometimes I prefer dried spices for their consistency, especially if I am going to make Supplì with the Risotto. I do rehydrate them in some wine, and they work just fine... if you use quality spices.
Mise en place
At this point, you can add the rice. You want to draw moisture out of the rice, so you can get maximum flavor INTO the rice, and you want a little bit of toastiness to it. If it starts smelling like popcorn kernels, you are going to far... add the wine right away. There is some debate on this. Some places say you want the rice to take on color... so cook 7-10 minutes. Some say to say only coat with oil and then add wine. I am in the 2-5 minute camp. I look for the outside of the rice to become translucent.
(not my picture... it was floating unclaimed out in the forums on the internet)
This is my second favorite part. Add the wine. I feel like this adds more flavor in one punch than anything else. The pan gets deglazed, alcohol-soluble flavors get... dissolved and stuff... and the rice absorbs it all. You want the wine to be all but completely absorbed at this step.
If you are following along at home and say, "Hey, what about Il Riposo?" You would be right, and I would ask you why you are bothering to read this, you are already learned in the ways of risotto! Traditionally there would be a short rest of a few minutes, before adding the last flavorings... but I am not super patient and I just push past it.
At this point, off the heat, add your cheese, fat, and parsley. Stir vigorously. If I am making this for the whole family, we use sheep's milk Pecorino Romano, because we have a daughter that has cow dairy issues. We have had good luck with Earth Balance butter substitute. If it is just the two of us, I use butter and whatever hard Italian cheese is in the fridge. Yes, I know the fake stuff should be frowned upon, but it is the difference between her not being able to enjoy this dish or it being too dry. Salt and Pepper to taste again, and maybe add some granulated garlic if you feel like it.
...What to do with the leftovers... if you have any? Supplì al Telefono!
3 Shallots chopped (or 3 tsp dry)
3 Garlic cloves minced (or 3 tsp dry)
1 Small Onion chopped small (or 1 1/2 tbsp dry)
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli Rice (or another short-grained Italian rice)
1 cup dry white Wine
4-5+ cups good broth (32 oz store-bought... if you must)
Pinch of Saffron (Optional)
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or Asiago)
Nob of Butter (or Bone Marrow, or Butter Substitute)
Fresh cracked Pepper
1 tbsp Parsley
- Heat broth in a small saucepan till simmering. Season with Salt and Pepper to taste. Turn heat to low.
- Set everything out. Hydrate dried herbs in wine. Soak saffron in about 1/2 cup of hot broth.
- Coat a medium-sized saucier or saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil. Heat over medium flame.
- Saute onion till starts to color, add garlic and shallots and cook till fragrant.
- Toast rice with vegetables till coated and edges are transparent.
- Pour in wine and stir. Occasionally stir while the rice absorbs the wine.
- When wine is absorbed, add broth about a cup at a time, allowing it to partially absorb between ladles.
- Add cup of broth with saffron with the second ladle of broth. Stir often but not constantly.
- Cook risotto till al dente. Some resistance is good, grittiness is bad.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter till creamy. Season to taste. Stir in parsley and serve.