Call me crazy but risotto is my idea of a relaxing evening at home in the kitchen. After spending some of my gap year traveling in Tuscany undergoing self-indulgent cookery courses, it takes me floating back while mindlessly stirring a pan of creamy, moorish risotto with nothing to rush for except the giddy excitable stomachs of your blessed guests- sorry but they’ll have to wait, risotto cannot and should not be rushed. Like my ice cream, I am probably a risotto connoisseur. So many people cook risotto badly- dry, stiff overcooked and tasteless. So here are a few of my tips I’ve gathered after countless experiences that I think are essential when cooking an fantastic Italian risotto.
These apply mainly to the process of making a risotto base. Extra flavours, different wines or purees can be added during or at the end, but essentially these rules always apply for me!
- Butter– Risotto is a regional dish from the Northern areas of Italy. As discovered on my cookery endeavours, rather pleasingly, here it is much more common to use butter in cooking than the southern use of olive oil. Therefore, always use a big knob of unsalted butter (with a little olive oil to prevent it burning) to gently soften the base vegetables (onion, celery etc). Risotto is about flavour and taste- don’t skimp on the good stuff.
- Wine– Once your rice has toasted a bit, always add a generous glass of wine and let it bubble so that is is absorbed by the rice, before adding your stock. Always keep any leftover wine for this exact purpose as it doesn’t have to be good/fresh.
- Stock– Always add HOT stock. This will ensure the cooking time is kept constant and the temperature of the risotto does not keep fluctuating. I keep a pan on the hob next to me with a big ladle. In addition, use a GOOD stock as essentially, this will add the bulk of the flavour so make sure its tasty.
- Liquid– Add the stock little by little. This is important, never add it all at once as the rice will boil dry before it has a chance to cook. Keep a loose texture but don’t let it run dry, so keep an eye out. It needs constant stirring to loosen the liquid around the grains to release the starch and thicken the mixture.
- Al dente– The whole addition process should take about 15-18 minutes so keep testing the rice. I should have a slight (and I mean slight not raw) al dente bite so that when served, you can see each grain. Overcooked and the grains merge in a starchy mess.
- Rest– When it is ready, add cubed, chilled butter (the more the merrier) and grated parmesan (usually, except in a seafood risotto) while it is OFF the heat. Pop a lid on and just let it sit relaxingly for a few minutes.
- Texture– risotto should be served on a flat plate or shallow soup bowl so that it can easily spread but is not watery.
- Serve– Finally, serve at once! Like I said, risotto doesn’t wait for anyone, the longer it’s left, the more it will overcook.
Leftovers– If for some insane reason there are leftovers, don’t you dare throw them away! One of the most amazing things to do with cold risotto is to make arancini. These are balls of rice, breaded and fried and usually contain cheese. Using your cold leftovers, roll into tennis ball sized balls (a nice thing to do is stick a piece of mozzarela, goats cheese or a good melter in the centre first) and coat in flour, egg and then roll in breadcrumbs. These little beauties can now be fried in oil (or deep fried) until golden and molten in the middle.
See my Wild Mushroom and Marsala Risotto recipe.