Everyone should have a basic risotto recipe. This Italian dish is a classic for a reason: it's simple, it's flavorful and it's a wonderful and warming comfort food. Anyone who loves making homemade pasta will likely consider making risotto at home a delicious addition to their food and cooking skills.
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The basic idea behind risotto is practically set in stone: cook the rice slowly, add broth gradually. This allows the outer layer of the rice to dissolve into a thick, creamy texture, while the inside of the kernel expands to an almost pasta-like consistency, all the while absorbing all of the delicious flavor. However, the number of flavor variations are virtually unlimited, from red wine and sausage to mushrooms and cheese or even ham and peas.
Here is a primer on all things risotto, including a basic risotto recipe which can easily be tailored to your personal taste.
What is risotto, anyway?
While many people associate risotto with pasta, it's actually made of rice that's cooked to a creamy consistency with broth, which can be meat, fish or vegetable-based. Any number of add-ins can provide flavor and texture, from wine to mushrooms to meat to cheese or spices of all sorts.
What type of rice should I use to make risotto?
Not all rice varieties are well suited to making risotto. Typically, it's made with a short grain, high starch rice, such as Arborio. The high starch varieties will absorb the liquid, which gives the dish a wonderful flavor, and also help to thicken the mixture to a creamy consistency.
Is it a side or a main dish?
In Italian culture, risotto is served as a primo patti (first course), a stand-alone course before the main course. Not all cultures enjoy multi-course meals, however. In the U.S., risotto is frequently enjoyed as main course or side dish, much in the way of another stateside classic, macaroni and cheese. However, while mac and cheese is a homey favorite, risotto can be dressed up or down, and is equally at home alongside a beautiful braised meat dish or served with roasted vegetables.
1. Don't overcook the risotto.
For a perfect consistency, remove from heat when there is still some liquid left, when the risotto is at an al dente texture. The rice will continue to cook in the residual heat.
2. Don't add too much liquid.
Too much liquid will make the rice bloated, too soft and mushy. Add liquid sparingly, and monitor how the rice is absorbing liquid as you stir.
3. Serve it right after you make it.
Risotto truly is at its best directly after cooking. You can store leftovers in the refrigerator, but add some olive oil when you reheat to regain some texture. It will never attain its original texture, but it will still taste good.
Recipe for a basic risotto with Parmesan and mushrooms
This recipe is amazingly versatile; as you'll see, many ingredients can be altered or substituted to make the dish suit your fancy.
While this recipe calls for chicken broth, this can be altered based on your personal preferences. Would you rather use vegetable, fish or beef broth? Go for it, the recipe will work just as well.
The texture of dried mushrooms will soften as they are mixed into the creamy risotto. Using cooked mushrooms is fine, but they may take on a slightly slippery texture. You can make your own dried mushrooms by baking cooked mushrooms at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes or until crispy (this may depend on the type of mushroom you use).
While this recipe calls for grated Parmesan cheese, you can add a different hard or even soft cheese if it will suit the flavor you're going for. If you prefer to go without cheese, the recipe will be fine, but may lack a fullness in flavor.
This recipe calls for salt and pepper to taste, but rosemary, garlic, thyme and basil would all work beautifully if you'd like a fuller flavor.
While this recipe doesn't call for wine, many people like to swirl in a glug or two toward the end of the cooking process. White wine adds a dimension of flavor to the dish; red wine will also add flavor, but beware: it may also impart a pinkish hue.
This recipe makes 4 small servings. For a crowd, the recipe can be doubled with no issues, though you might need a bigger skillet.
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the broth in a medium saucepan. Once it reaches a low boil, turn off the heat. Set to the side for the moment.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and onion over medium-high heat. Cook until the onion is soft and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to ensure that each kernel gets coated with oil. You'll be able to tell because the matte kernels will take on a slightly shiny tone once coated.
Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 ½ cups of the hot chicken broth to the rice. It will sizzle when you add it. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer on medium-low heat. As the liquid gets absorbed into the rice, add more broth. Stir often.
Cook the rice until just about all of the broth has been absorbed and the rice is creamy, with the consistency (but not taste, of course) of oatmeal. This will take about 15 minutes, but may vary depending on the heat of your stovetop. Stir in the butter and cheese. Once mixed, stir in the mushrooms and season to taste with salt and pepper. When you drag a wooden spoon through the mixture, it should leave a clear spot in the pan that's filled in fairly quickly by liquid.
Give it a little taste (go ahead). You are looking for a slightly al dente consistency. Once it has reached your desired consistency, remove from heat. Serve warm.