Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Risotto: Raising the Bar for Rice

One of our favorite ways to fancy up rice is to make a risotto. It feels a lot fancier than just plain rice, and barely costs more, since we have 15-20 quarts of stock in our freezer at any given time, and the rest of the ingredients can be changed to fit what we have on hand.
Creamy, delicious risotto or boring old rice... it's no contest!

Serious chefs say that you need a short-grain rice such as arborio rice to really make this work. Pish posh, I say. Granted, there is some science behind it, but arborio rice costs a lot more than plain ol' white rice. To me, this is more about the technique and flavor than about having the “perfect” creamy risotto.

That said, all of these pictures are with arborio rice because I was feeling splurge-y and bought some. Consistent I am not.

The main thing that risotto requires is time. It calls for adding stock to the rice slowly – a cup or so at a time – and stirring a lot. I have read several recipes that say you can add all the liquid at once and skip the stirring if you have a wide enough pot. I split the difference and add the stock slowly but rarely stir it. It lets me feel like I'm doing it the “real” way, but without all that effort. Whichever method you're using, it WILL take at least 30 minutes, so plan accordingly.

Make extra of this because it's impossible to resist snacking on
Start by deciding what extras you want in your risotto. This is one of the reasons I like it so much: it's versatile and customizable. My standard additions are mushrooms, onion, and garlic. However, you can put in pretty much anything you like. I've had success with spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, and peas. Cook your additions to the level you like and then remove them from the pan. This will prevent them from being cooked to death while the rice cooks.

Unfortunately, this will also make the house smell good and your family insist on dinner NOW. It's a double-edged sword, really. 

Leftover bits of garlic will flavor the rice nicely
When your additives are done sauteing, add a little olive oil to the pan and add your rice. Stir it around for a couple of minutes to get it all nice and warmed up and a little golden. Tell everyone that no, dinner isn't almost ready.  Trust me, they'll ask. 

If you have some white wine, start off by adding about ½ cup of wine. When that has absorbed – or if you are a) out of wine or b) don't want to share your wine with the rice – start adding the stock, 1-2 cups at a time. Stir as often as you feel necessary, adding more broth as each addition is absorbed.

The rice will start to look poofy and soft after about the third addition. Sadly, it's not done yet. If you don't believe me, try a piece. Tricksy little rices.  About now, I usually have to make the choice - do I negotiate with the Toddler Terrorist and give her some sort of small snack to tide her over, knowing the demands will only increase?  Or do I try to pretend the tantrum explosion isn't happening?  Either way, I'm screwed, so if there's wine open, I have a glass and power on.

At this point, you'll want to check the rice between each addition of stock. The risotto will start to thicken and look creamier (especially if you use arborio rice). A batch that starts with 1 ½ cups of rice will take 6-8 cups of stock or, as I measure, two bags from the freezer.

I always think it's about done at this point.  It's not.  Boo.
When the rice has finished cooking, add in any extras you have, along with a good handful of Parmesan cheese. I use the powdered stuff because I'm broke and WinCo has it in bulk. We go through a fair amount of it. A couple tablespoons of cream cheese can also up the creamy factor, as can, well, cream. This time, I added a couple ounces of mozzarella, since I had it out for the chicken I was cooking. Really, whatever you want goes, although I highly suggest Parmesan in there somewhere.

After, and only after, you have tasted it, season it as you wish. Since the Parmesan is salty, it's important to taste it before you add any additional salt. I usually add a little salt, some pepper and some turmeric. Stir it all around really well and let it sit off the heat for a couple of minutes to thicken up/spread the flavor, then dig in!

I always make a giant batch, because it saves well and that means the following night's dinner is going to be low-effort, and there will be some left for lunches, too.  I'm a big fan of leftovers for lunch - it means I just have to grab the Tupperware out of the fridge and go - no thought, no effort.

1 cup sliced mushrooms*
½ cup finely diced onions
2 T minced garlic
1 ½ cups rice
2 T olive oil
½ cup wine (optional)
6-8 cups stock
1/3 cup powdered Parmesan (½ cup fresh shredded)

2 oz grated mozzarella
½ tsp turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

*Can be replaced with broccoli, spinach, asparagus, or whatever else sounds good at the time

Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over med-high heat.
Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic and cook until the mushrooms have shrunk and onions are translucent (5-10 minutes)
Remove the mushroom mixture from the pan and set aside
Return the pan to the stove and reduce the heat to medium low
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil
Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently
Add wine, if using, and stir constantly until all wine is absorbed
Add 1-2 cups of stock, stirring frequently until all the stock is absorbed. Repeat until rice is al dente (if you run out of stock, just use water)
When the rice is al dente and nearly all the stock is absorbed, add mushroom mixture, Parmesan and mozzarella.
Stir to combine, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add turmeric, salt and pepper
Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes to thicken up.