Trouble With Toast

Back to Basics: Risotto | December 11, 2008

Some people (who will remain nameless) have confessed to me their fear of risotto.  After eating numerous fantastic versions in restaurants, many with luxurious ingredients like lobster and truffles, I can understand why the dish might seem intimidating.  However, in Italy and in my house, knowing how to prepare risotto is as basic as knowing how to roast a chicken or reduce a sauce. 

The key to risotto is patience–and by patience, I don’t mean inactive patience where you sit on the couch and watch TV while your oven does all the work.  For risotto to come out perfectly every time, you have to be willing to stand at the stove and monitor its progress.  You also have to trust your taste buds, as there is no fool-proof standard for how long it takes or exactly how much liquid to use.  You want the rice to be creamy but still have a slight bite (and you want to see individual grains), but there’s no way to know if you’ve hit the mark other than to taste it and judge for yourself.  The only constants in risotto are Arborio rice, sauteed aromatics (usually shallots or onions), oil or butter (or both), dry white wine, and cooking liquid (usually some sort of broth or stock).

This recipe, which was adapted from Bon Appetit magazine and calls for peas and prosciutto as its main components, is just a guide.  Here’s another recipe that I really enjoy.  The possibilities are endless, as risotto is a wonderful canvas for many delicious ingredient and flavor combinations.  Good luck, and enjoy!

  • 4-8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Sauv Blanc)
  • 1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan and keep at a bare simmer.

    Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute (this toasts the grains slightly, giving them a nice nutty flavor). Add wine and simmer, stirring, until absorbed.

    Stir in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering risotto and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition become absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and creamy but still al dente.  Note: For me, this took 7 cups of broth and about 30 minutes.

    Stir in peas, prosciutto, zest, cheese, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.



    Posted in Recipes


    1. I havea fear of investing so much time and then having it taste like glue. I need to overcome it.

      Also, I saw somewhere that Mario Batalli says you don’t need to stir…the more you know…

      Comment by Lemmonex — December 11, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

    2. Mario Batalli gets in wrong here. Stirring is required, and this recipe makes me want to find some risotto tonight. Cold and rainy in DC and risotto is good comfort food.

      Comment by restaurantrefugee — December 11, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

    3. Lem: Maybe we can make some in January–I will lovingly talk you through it, and then we can spoon after. 😉 You’ve created far more difficult dishes and been a rousing success, so I know you can master risotto.

      RR: I agree about Batali (maybe he’s spending too much time with Gwynyth, who I’m convinced is a raging moron). If you don’t stir, half of the rice will stick to the pan (particularly if you use lower quality cookware), and the other half won’t get the proper exposure to liquid. Plus, your guests won’t be able to taste the love. I also agree that risotto is great cold-weather comfort food (it was nasty here last night, which is part of why I made it–the other part will become clear with tomorrow’s post). Maybe you can make some?

      Comment by bettyjoan — December 11, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

    4. We took a cooking class in Cinque Terre that included making risotto. And you are right, it’s all about standing and patiently stirring. Good risotto is definitely worth it!

      Comment by barbara — December 17, 2008 @ 2:24 am

    5. Oh, I’ve heard Cinque Terre is beautiful–how fun to take a cooking class there!

      Comment by bettyjoan — December 18, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

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