I am relatively new to risotto, having only started cooking it in the last four years or so. Rice, however, is a longtime friend. Not the Rice-a-roni of my childhood, but good, California-grown rice.
I was introduced to a rice pot in college thirty years ago via my godmother, and received my first one as a wedding shower gift (ironically at a shower my godmother gave me!). My freshman dorm-mate got cozy with the boy across the way and ended up marrying him three years later. He was a third-generation rice farmer from Trowbridge, California. So to support the rice farmers, and to make my meager budget stretch farther, we ate a lot of rice in our early married years, and continue to do so today. Mostly steamed rice cooked in a rice pot, but I do make a delicious Spanish rice and my mother-in-law taught me how to make Lebanese rice with vermicelli and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
I was slow to catch on to risotto. When we ate out at a restaurant where risotto was on the menu, I always looked right past it, wanting something more exotic, something with meat, something that was more complex. But I gradually came around. I let someone else fix it for me a few times, and then realized I could do it myself.
Risotto is an Italian rice dish utilizing a medium-grain variety of rice, such as Arborio. It is cooked slowly with constant liquid additions, and requires constant stirring to release the starch from the rice, resulting in a thick, creamy product.
What’s not to love about risotto? It can be whipped up in 30-40 minutes depending on the amount of rice and the ingredients you choose to use. Risotto is easy on the tummy, kids love it, and it is a great way to use those leftover roasted veggies or roast chicken, mushrooms languishing in the crisper drawer, and that 2-ounce hunk of parmesan that you don’t know what to do with. It can be simple and homey or fancy and exotic.
My daughter began making a special risotto, with carmelized onions, roasted chicken, and balsamic vinegar. Everyone in the family loved it, especially Son the Butcher, who has now named the dish “Bomb Ass Shit.” He tells his friends about it, requests it on occasion, and we have, over time, come to refer to it as Bomb Ass Shit, as well. Here is the famous recipe:
6 T butter
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
7 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
salt and pepper to taste
Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and saut for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are a dark golden brown. Remove from heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth.
Heat the remaining butter in the same pot over medium heat (the onion residue adds extra flavor). Stir in the rice and mix well. Let heat for about 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then pour in the wine. Reduce heat to medium low and start pouring in the warm broth about 1 cup at a time. Add more broth as each cup is absorbed. Continue in this manner until all the broth is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved onion mixture and chicken and allow to heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This week I had occasion to make a new risotto recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, Volume II, which I recently received as a gift. In flipping through the huge tome, I found several great recipes. We had the Light As A Cloud Gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce Sunday, sea bass last night, and on Tuesday we had this great Asparagus Risotto:
2 pounds tender fresh asparagus
1 sweet onion, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups Arborio
¼ cup whipping cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few drops of white truffle oil (optional)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Cut off tough bottoms of asparagus and discard. Cut of top 2 ½ inches of asparagus and reserve. Roughly chop remaining stalks.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and add asparagus tips. Boil for 3 minutes. Drain, plunge into ice water bath to cool, then drain again.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and chopped asparagus pirce sand sauté for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring brother to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to keep it barely simmering.
Add the rice to the onion mixture and stir to coat with butter. Add one cup of broth and cook until absorbed, stirring constantly. Add more broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding broth only when the previous addition has been absorbed. Cook for about 25 minutes until rice is tender and creamy, but al dente. Remove from heat and stir in cream, cheese, asparagus tips, and truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper.