Early spring here in Maine is finally starting to show itself. After the snow from a late March snowstorm has all but melted, the temperatures have been steadily going up and I'm beginning to think towards warmer days and my garden. I'm particularly anxious to get planting after the Great Fertilizer Disaster of 2019 decimated my vegetables, herbs and spirit. Ah, the challenges of a non-green-thumbed gardener. But let's leave that story for another day...
Today we're tackling one of those dishes that seems to be shrouded in mystery: risotto. Risotto is high up on my list of foods that just feels comfortable and warm. Also, being able to tailor the dish to whatever your tastes are or whatever ingredients you may have in the kitchen makes risotto one of the most versatile dishes out there. So why aren't more people making it at home? I think the answer lies in the intimidation factor. Risotto is one of those dishes that appears on restaurant menus, but few seem to make it at home.
Here's a little secret about most restaurant risottos: you can do better at home. Restaurants can have the best ingredients and great chefs, but risotto asks for one thing more: Time. Most customers aren't willing to wait a half hour or more for their meal so restaurants will often par-cook their Arborio rice to cut down on the cooking time. Because Arborio rice is so starchy, par-cooking releases the starch and leads to a gummy, sticky result when reheated. If you want a proper risotto, the creamy delicate rice dish that has many layers of flavor, you're going to have to clear your schedule for a half hour. Once you begin, it's best to stick with it or you'll run the risk of drying it out or worse, turning it into a mushy blob. If you stick with it and take your time, you'll produce a better than restaurant risotto at home. Trust me, once you get the technique down, it'll become a staple of your menu planning.
As in most dishes, the quality of ingredients is key. Every addition in risotto is a chance to increase the depth of flavors. The stock you use doesn’t necessarily have to be homemade but should be flavorful and not salty. The wine doesn’t have to be a $100 bottle but should be a good quality wine you wouldn’t mind drinking. The recipe below is for Garlic-Parmesan Risotto. If you make another kind, like butternut squash or shrimp, just cook and season those as your first step and set aside. Incorprate just prior to your last addition of broth.
Garlic Parmesan Risotto
• 1 cup Arborio rice
• 1/2 medium onion diced finely
• 4 cloves garlic minced
• 1 Tbsp. olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. butter
• 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
• 1/4 cup dry white wine
• 3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
• 3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
• Begin by heating your stock and keeping it warm.
• Add butter and oil to a large skillet over medium heat.
• Add the onions and cook until just tender, then add the garlic. Cook 1 minute longer.
• Add the rice and stir to coat.
• Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed.
• Add 1 ladle of the stock and stir until it absorbs.
• Repeat this until you have used almost all of the stock - it should take about 17-25 minutes.
• When you add the last ladle of stock, also add the parsley, but only let the stock absorb halfway and then add your cheese.
• Let it absorb until it is creamy and thick, but not soupy. Adjust your seasoning, if needed.
• Serve, adding extra parmesan if desired.