Risotto, in any form, is one of my favorite dinners to make.
It’s another one of meals that you see in fancy restaurants but until you make it at home, you don’t realize how easy it is.
Basically, risotto is plump Italian Arborio rice that is cooked slowly in broth until it is tender and thick. Unlike conventional rice that you pop in a pan with a bunch of water, risotto is cooked, and more importantly stirred constantly and slowly so that the starches can develop into a delectable creamy consistency.
Once you’ve got the hang of making risotto your options are endless.
You can start with any kind of broth (veg, chicken, beef), add some veggies, and some protein (shrimp & scallops are my favorite risotto guilty pleasure).
Every now and then, I like to go with all veggies like Mushroom & Pea Risotto.
Here’s what you need:
Mushrooms (Shiitake & Crimini), Arborio Rice (Risotto Rice), Frozen Peas, Shallots, Garlic, Fresh Thyme, Olive Oil, Butter (not pictured), Vegetable Broth, White Wine, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Salt & Pepper.
The only absolute MUST with risotto is the rice. You must use ARBORIO rice. Regular long grain rice is not the same thing and will not work.
Arborio rice has plump, short grains with more starch so it cooks down into an incredibly creamy broth. Most stores carry arborio rice so if you don’t find it, be sure to ask.
You could make this with regular white button mushrooms, but I don’t think they offer the most bang for your mushroom buck.
Instead, I would go for some of the “wild mushrooms” that are available in the store. They’re not really wild anymore but they’re more interesting and flavorful than the old standard shrooms.
I have about 8 ounces of shiitake mushrooms and 8 ounces of crimini (or baby bella) mushrooms.
Wash, rinse, brush off, or clean your mushrooms to your liking then remove the stems. The stems of the shiitake are not great eating so I cut them off. I also remove the stems of the criminis because I don’t think they add that much to the flavor and they’re often tough.
If the caps are small you can simply cut them in half. Slice any larger caps.
While you’re chopping, finely chop 2 shallots (not pictured) and 2-3 cloves of garlic.
There are a couple of tricks to making risotto. The first one is to use warm stock. Place 6 cups of vegetable stock in a medium sauce pan and heat it up on the stove. This doesn’t have to be boiling like crazy, just get it good and warm at a nice gentle simmer.
Another good risotto trick is to use a pan larger than you think you need. Don’t try making this in a small sauce pan or you will be stirring your arm off.
I make mine in my big enamel dutch oven. You can also use some kind of wider braising pan with high sides. A bigger pan helps the risotto to cook faster, gives you room to stir the grains of rice around easily, and keeps you from making a mess all over the stove.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in your big pan over medium heat.
Add the chopped shallots and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until they are just starting to get tender. Don’t let the shallots brown.
Add the mushrooms, garlic, and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme to the pan. Turn the heat up to medium high so the mushrooms cook quickly.
If your mushrooms are looking a little dry, feel free to add 1 Tablespoon of butter to help them get going.
Butter also gives the risotto a nice flavor boost.
Sauté the mushrooms for about 4-5 minutes until they start to wilt. The mushrooms will continue to cook in the risotto so don’t over cook them now.
Once the mushrooms look saucy and tender, add 1½ cups of Arborio Rice. Give the rice a quick stir around in the pan to coat all the grains with the oil and butter from the mushrooms then add ½ cup of good, dry white wine.
Turn the heat back down to medium so the risotto cooks gently and evenly.
Now add 1 ladleful (or use a measuring cup as a scoop) of your hot broth to the pan. Stir, stir, stir until the broth has been absorbed by the grains of rice.
Add another ladleful of broth and stir, stir, stir.
You can see that as the Arborio Rice cooks, the grains plump up and the sauce starts to become creamy.
Continue to add broth one spoonful at a time stirring it in until it is almost completely absorbed before adding more.
Don’t cheat and just dump it all in. The key to risotto is the slow addition of the broth and the constant stirring.
You’ll hear all sorts of shortcuts and tricks in making risotto but the only trick is to stand and stir until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
This takes about 20-30 minutes so get yourself a beverage or enlist a helper.
Think of this as your Risotto Meditation.
When you are nearing the end of your 6 cups of stock, take a spoon and taste a few grains of the rice. You want it to be tender on the outside with just the tiniest bit of firmness in the middle.
If your rice is still a bit crunchy, add more broth. If you run out of broth, you can add a bit of warm water.
If your risotto is creamy and just the slightest bit firm in the center, add 1 cup of frozen peas and ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
My half cup of cheese is a little on the closer side to 3/4 but that’s okay with me!
Season the risotto with salt & pepper to taste and cook for another 5 minutes to warm up the peas.
You can see that after adding the peas, my risotto still has a little bit of liquid to be absorbed. This is your cushion in case you need to make a quick salad or set the table.
Once risotto is ready to go, it’s best to eat it right away if possible.
The thickness of your risotto is entirely up to you. You can have it a bit looser as I have here or cook it for a few more minutes until all of the liquid has been thoroughly absorbed.
Garnish the top with a little grated cheese or some shards that have been cut from the wedge with a vegetable peeler.
Just for fun, I added a tiny drizzle of this cool Mushroom & Sage olive oil that I got from Joe & Son’s, a neat store here in Tampa.
You might have a funky olive oil & vinegar store near you. They’re all the rage these days and I am totally addicted. One of these days I’ll show you my olive oil cabinet…it’s embarrassing.
Risottos aren’t just for fancy restaurants.
Here’s the recipe – Adapted from The New York Times