Friday, August 19, 2005

Risotto Perfection

I made a simple risotto recipe for the first time a couple of months ago. It was acceptable, but nothing to write home about. Since then, I have tried it a few more times, but for varying reasons (mostly because its cooked in the microwave), it just hasn't been quite good enough to earn a place on my permanent menu.

I began to have a risotto crisis this week. I have an old recipe for Baked Risotto that I tried once, maybe three years ago, and I've been tempted to try it again, mainly because it has a lot going for it on the ingredients list. However, when I went to make it today, I realized the recipe calls for long-grain rice. Since risotto is made with medium-grade rice, like arborio, I got nervous and sat at the kitchen table for a long while, debating anxiously. Should I try it with arborio instead? Should I use long-grain like the recipe says, and just accept that the cooking technique is what makes it risotto? Should I stick with the simple recipe I've been using?

In the end, I decided the recipe calling for long-grain rice was too nerve-wracking, and woefully misinformed to boot, and I went to the cookbook shelf, bound and determined to find a suitable risotto recipe, one made traditionally, yet with complex enough flavors to satisfy my need for experimentation. My cookbook stash is both a blessing and a curse. While having such a diverse collection means I am never at a loss for new recipes, it also means I can get bogged down in the details when, like today, I find countless variations on a single dish and get overwhelmed by the choices.

Mushroom risotto is what I have been craving, but the only recipe I could find for it included dried mushrooms. I made a Minnesota Wild Rice Soup a short time ago that used dried mushrooms, and I found them nauseating at best, both in smell and in consistency. I finally narrowed the choices today down to Risotto with Cheese and Risotto with Celery, and left it up to The Carnivore to make a decision. After some prodding, he went with the celery, which I was aching to try since the texture sounded so appealing.

I found this recipe in More Classic Italian Cooking, a 1978 cookbook that I inherited from my late Great-Aunt Doris. The only changes I made were in the proportion of broth to water, and in the addition of black pepper.

  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (I used purple onions)
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil (as always, I used olive oil)
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 2 cups celery stalks, diced fine
  • 1 Tbs chopped celery leaves, pulled from the heart
  • Salt (I used kosher)
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbs chopped parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper as well
  1. Put the broth and water in a saucepan, and bring it to the slightest simmer.
  2. Put the onion, oil, and 2 Tbs butter in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent.
  3. Add half the diced celery and all of the leaves, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the rice, stirring quickly to coat thoroughly with the butter and oil. Add 1/2 cup of the broth.
  5. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When the broth has completely evaporated, add another 1/2 cup. Continue to stir until the rice is completely done, adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, the moment all the broth in the pot has boiled away.
  6. After the rice has cooked for about 10 minutes, add the remaining diced celery.
  7. The rice is done when it is tender yet firm to the bite, and will probably take about 30 minutes altogether. As long as the rice is cooked, it is not imperative to use all of the broth. However, if the rice is still not finished cooking after all the broth has been used, add water. At the end, there should be no liquid left in the dish, so towards the end, it is best to add liquid in the tiniest amounts.
  8. When the rice is done, add the remaining 2 Tbs butter and all the grated cheese.
  9. Stir rapidly and add more salt if needed.
  10. Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley and black pepper.

This turned out wonderfully. The celery added some crunch to the dense, creamy risotto, but the taste didn't overpower the dish. Now that I have tried risotto on the stove, even though it requires 30 minutes of continous stirring, I won't be able to settle for making risotto in the microwave again, even when made from scratch.

The Carnivore cooked some sort of piece of meat for his entree tonight. Apparently, the Honorary Vegetarian designation I have bestowed on him only lasts for a few days at a time, and he often rubs a few ounces of beef roast with some spices and cooks it in the oven for a few minutes (I'm sure I am leaving out some vital step in my description) when he feels the dishes I am cooking are not enough to constitute an entree. I was perfectly satisfied with the risotto for a main course because it is such a thick, hearty dish to begin with. I served it with broccoli, lightly steamed and tossed with butter, sea salt, cracked black pepper and Parmesan.

Now if I could just find a recipe for mushroom risotto that doesn't use dried mushrooms...

No comments: