Risotto is one of my favorite dishes and I clearly remember my first risotto experience. I was 22 years old, a first-year in law school and dining at Elda’s on Lark, a sort-of-swanky restaurant in the more hipster and trendy section of Albany, New York. I don’t exactly recall my risotto dish at Elda’s – I believe it was made with mushrooms and asparagus, but two memories resonate from that night at Elda’s. I remember fretting over whether I had enough money in my checking account to pay for the meal with my debit card rather than my credit card, and second – and much more important than money – I remember thinking, for the very first time, that I could not only replicate the risotto dish at home, but that I could probably make it better.
I have always been interested in cooking and in food, but it wasn’t until my early twenties and really living on my own that I started to appreciate and experiment with food. After my dining experience at Elda’s, I taught myself how to make risotto and found that learning the proper technique is a lot like riding a horse. You may fall off every now and again, but if you don’t get back in the saddle and try again, you’ll never learn.
Risotto is a labor of culinary love and is not your ordinary rice dish. Risotto has a creamy and rich texture, and when prepared successfully each individual rice grain should have the slightest bite to it. Cooking risotto requires an adherence to an established method of preparation in which flavors are built on top of each other resulting in a rice that is creamy – not because cream is used as an ingredient, but because the broth is added to the rice in a way that gives the starch in the rice a creamy texture.
There are so many ways to prepare risotto – it is much like a pasta sauce as almost anything can be added to it to build flavor. My favorite recipe is one that is very simple and uses shallots, fresh basil and Pecorino Romano cheese. Here is my recipe and preparation narrative.
Risotto with Shallots, Basil and Pecorino Romano
1 cup of Arborio rice
2 1/4 cups of chicken broth, heated
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1 medium shallot, diced
2 tablespoon of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese
salt and pepper
In a small saucepan heat chicken broth until simmering, reduce heat and continue to simmer.
In a medium saucepan, begin by heating the olive oil and butter. When heated, add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and translucent. Add the rice and saute for approximately 2 minutes until the rice is coated by the oil and butter and begins to brown slightly. Add the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed into the rice. Begin adding the heated chicken broth, about 1/3 of a cup at a time, each time letting the rice absorb the broth.
The risotto will be done when there is a slight bite to each grain, but otherwise tender and cooked through.
When the rice is done, remove from heat and blend in basil and Pecorino Romano cheese.
I like to add the basil at the end so that it’s flavor and freshness is preserved. I also find that adding the basil last adds a layer of texture to the risotto that is in slight contrast with its creaminess, which for me, seems to make this simple recipe a bit more complex. This recipe can also be made with red wine (which was used in the risotto featured in the included pictures) – a nice alternative during the colder months as red wine tends to add a warmer and richer flavor than a white wine. But whether you use white or red wine, or whichever ingredients you choose to build your risotto’s flavor, be prepared to fall off the horse a few times. Getting back in the saddle and trying again will be rewarding. Risotto is pure pleasure on a plate and with practice, its preparation becomes a true labor of culinary love.
Until next time….