Risotto

Looking for inspiration for a one-pot meal starter, or a comfortable side dish? There’s always rice; an everyday pantry staple, excellent accompaniment for a curry, or plate-filler for when you don’t feel like peeling potatoes. But those evenings when you have the urge for genuine Italian cuisine? Now that calls for risotto!

So, what is risotto exactly, and how is it different from your regular run-of-the-mill rice dish? Creamy risotto is made with a specialty Italian rice, gently simmered with broth, and tenderly teased with a spoon. Perhaps a splash of vino added here, a dash of salt there, resulting in a lush, perfectly blended bowl of risotto-y goodness!

Many a home cook has been known to tremble at the thought of making a successful risotto. Its reputation as one of the harder Italian dishes to master is not unfounded. Overcook the rice and you quickly ruin it. Overstir, and you lose the creamy, rich texture risotto is renowned for.

Do not let the experiences of others, and perhaps one or two of your own, dim your enthusiasm. Mastering the art will be well worth your perseverance, adding another family treasure to your repertoire.

As with most recipes, if you get the base right, you are already on the right track. One of the biggest mistakes made with risotto is made at the supermarket, long before you get to your cooktop. Don’t settle for the basic long grain, basmati, or jasmine rice. You will want something capable of absorbing large amounts of liquid, so carnaroli or arborio rice is the way to go to achieve that creamlike composition we know and love. It is the high starch content of these grains that thickens the simmering broth into a velvety sauce, during the stirring process.

We are a little closer to your cooktop than the supermarket now, but not quite there yet! The next stumbling block is often encountered before you even turn the stove on. Do NOT rinse the rice before cooking. Risotto needs to retain its starch and sticky consistency. Another insider tip: heat your broth before stirring it in, so as not to lower the temperature of the mixture.

While simmering, risotto becomes like a colicky baby! You can’t put it down, can’t walk away from it, and cannot ignore it! It needs your undivided attention. The trick is in the timing. A cook must spend 15 minutes focusing solely on feeding the risotto with stock, one ladleful at a time, not all at once. With gentle and persistent stirring, the liquid is slowly plumping the grains of rice. When checking for doneness, the risotto should be just the other side of al-dente, soft with the tiniest bite.

At this point, the smooth and silky risotto is ready for your chef’s magic touch! A knob of butter, a sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs, and a smattering of cheese perhaps. It becomes the perfect plate for mussels or shrimp, or seared salmon with dill. It is equally well suited to simple suppers as it is to more formal meals.

Don’t allow risotto to intimidate you. With a bit of practice and a back-up supply of patience, you can make this hearty Italian classic a trusted favourite in your kitchen.

Move over rice; risotto is here to stay.

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