You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. – Julia Child
|A Milan market. Photo: luigi, Flickr ccl
What is risotto?
Risotto is an Italian dish that consists of rice slowly cooked in low levels of broth until creamy in consistency. It may include, among aromatic ingredients, protein such as chicken, fish, or meat, and often vegetables. There are many risotto dishes that are solely vegetarian. For example, an earlier post on this blog has a recipe for Risotto with Beets, Gorgonzola and Walnuts. (search "risotto", or "beets")
|Arborio rice. Photo: tariqata, Flickr ccl
Short grain rice is most commonly used to make risotto due to its high starch content. Two favourites are arborio or carnaroli, both easy to acquire at the local grocery or specialty market. The other standard ingredient is parmesan cheese, the best being Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Risotto is a dish that requires constant stirring, but it well worth the minimal effort on that part. Once you understand the basic technique variations can be endless.
A brief history
Risotto has been made in Italy since the 1300s when the Arabs brought rice to Sicily during their occupation. Italy was ideal to grow rice due to the sunshine, humidity and rich soil. Since it was easy to grow and subsequently became plentiful, rice entered the lexicon of Italian cuisine.
|Cathederal Duomo di Milano. Photo: Bernt Rostad, Flickr ccl
The story of the risotto is quite interesting. More so than most other foods, because it was created to be a failure!
Valerius, a young apprentice, is believed to be the creator of risotto. In 1574, he was put in charge of making the stained-glass window that was to adorn the Cathedral Duomo Di Milano. While he worked, many of the townspeople made fun of him, giving credit to the herb saffron for the beautiful colors showcased in his artwork.
As a result, Valerius became angry and devised a plan of retaliation. During his master's wedding, he added an excessive amount of saffron to the rice being served as the main dish. He hoped his action would ruin the festivities, but instead the rice received great reviews, launching risotto into culinary fame.
Many people feel risotto is intimidating, but it is all in the technique. If you can stir and watch a pot, you have all the skills necessary to make excellent risotto every time.
Risotto with Shrimp and Portobellos
Prep: 10 min | Cook 30 min | Serves 4
|Plated and ready to enjoy!
1 lb shrimp, medium or large
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb portobello mushrooms (or crimini), chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
salt and pepper
Clean the shrimp and set aside. Heat the stock in a saucepan to boiling, reduce the heat and keep warm.
Ensure you have your cell phone close at hand, or if not, ignore your land line, as this needs constant tending. Seriously.
|Step 1. Sauté onions and mushrooms
Heat the oil in a wide saucepan. When hot add the onions and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. They do not have to be browned. Add in the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Add the rice to the pan and sauté for a further minute. Sautéing the rice in this manner seals the surface of the rice and allows for a slower release of the starch when cooking.
|Sauté rice before adding liquid.
Add in the 1 cup of wine and sauté, stirring constantly, until almost completely evaporated. Add in the chicken stock, a ladle full or two at a time. The level of stock should just come up to the top of the rice and it will bubble.
Let the stock level reduce to very low before each addition of more stock. Continue stirring so the rice does not catch to the bottom of the pan.
Continue in this manner until the rice is just before “al dente, which is having a bit of resistance when bitten. This should take about 15 minutes. The rice should not be crunchy, but still resist a bit. Also check for salt, although chicken stock can be quite salty, so be careful.
|Add stock a little at a time.
Add in more chicken stock and the shrimp. Let the stock reduce and the shrimp cook until just pink. Do not overcook the shrimp or they will be tough.
Add in the cheese, and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese is incorporated. There should be very little “sauce” remaining, just enough for each grain to be surrounded by just a bit of liquid.
Serve immediately with crusty bread.
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