Friday, September 19, 2014

A Master Recipe for Risotto

People often ask me what we eat for dinner on weeknights. Like a lot of families, we are busy with work, kids, and that seemingly endless pile of laundry. And while I'm always looking for something new, risotto will remain in my dinner rotation for a long time. It's a forgiving recipe and always delicious. I start with a few core ingredients from the pantry, to which I add whatever fresh stuff I happen to have around. Here are two recent examples: one with sautéed mushrooms and peas, and one with chopped fresh tomatoes and parsley. 

Part of what I hope to do in this blog is to inspire readers to cook at home more often. I recently read this post from a blog called The Happiest Home, which argues that the key to weeknight peace is to spend more time in the kitchen, not less. Risotto is a good start. While it doesn't take hours to make, it is a dish that requires full attention. 

If you do your "mise en place" ahead of time, you will be an efficient risotto cook. "Mise en place" is key to restaurant cooking, and it means to put "everything in its place" before you start applying heat to your food. This practice benefits the home cook too. For risotto, this means that the broth is heated, the ladle is sitting in the broth pot, the ingredients are chopped, measured and waiting by the side of the stove. Because once you start stirring, you really can't stop. 

So make sure there are no diapers to change or kids to pick up from practice. This dish gives you a nice 20 minutes or so of meditative stirring, and the result is a delicious dinner. So pick a night when you are around, get the kids stirring, and enjoy.

Risotto Master Recipe
serves 4

3-6 oz. pancetta
1 T. olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 large onion)
2 c. arborio rice
1/4 c. white wine
7- 8 c. chicken or vegetable broth
salt to taste
1 c. grated parmesan or fontina cheese (or a combination)
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Add in up to 2 cups of the following:
mushrooms sauteed in garlic
chopped tomatoes
peas sauteed in a butter and thyme
roasted squash or cauliflower

Dice pancetta and cook in a large soup pot on medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel and set aside. While the pancetta is cooking, heat broth in a smaller pot. Keep it simmering on low and keep a ladle nearby.

Dice the shallots or onions finely, and place in a bowl by the stove. Measure rice, wine and cheese and place near the stove. Make sure any optional herbs or add ins are ready.

In the soup pot, add olive oil to pancetta drippings and heat on medium. Add shallots or onions and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until the pieces are coated with the oil and are bright white, about 3 minutes (I had an instructor in cooking school who called the color you are looking for: "a whiter shade of white").

Add wine and cook off, then add 2 cups of broth to start. Stir, continuously, keeping the rice moving. The broth should be bubbling and the pan should be steaming--you want a vigorous heat but not enough to burn the bottom of the pan. As the broth gets absorbed, add more broth, 1 cup at a time.  If you are using unsalted broth, salt each time you add broth.

Repeat stirring and adding broth until rice is thoroughly cooked through. You are looking for the rice to be fully cooked and the consistency of the dish should be loose enough where the risotto spreads on a plate. Cooking time will be about 20 minutes depending on your stove, and you may not use all of the broth. Add additional broth at the end to ensure the risotto doesn't get too sticky, then turn off the heat and add the cheese. Taste and adjust for salt. Add optional herbs and toppings and eat!

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