I am missing my dear friend very much, and wishing she were close by to cook the risotto dish she made for me one time. It was sooooo delicious, and I bet if I make some, it would make me feel just a little bit closer to her. Qu’est-ce tu suggère?
How lovely that you have a dish that makes you think of your friend. I’m sure she wishes she could make it for you, again, but maybe you can make it for her the next time she visits?
Risotto, like a good friendship, requires time and a little bit of effort, but is worth every bit of patience and work for the wonderful result. It isn’t hard to make—I think risotto kind of gets a bad wrap in this regard—it just isn’t as easy as steamed rice, which is a “walk away and it will be great” affair. Comparison is so cruel, isn’t it?
Despite growing up in an Italian family, I never ate risotto as a child, not even once. It just wan’t a part of our particular Italian-American menu. Upon discovering this delicious treat in college, I wanted to learn to master it as soon as possible.
Enter Lidia Bastianich, and her television show, Lidia’s Italy. Years and years ago, in the pre-Food Network days, I remember watching her make risotto on her PBS show, and knowing that I now could put all the risotto technique I’d read in cookbooks to good use. There was just something about the easy way she showed the process—add liquid, stir, add liquid stir—that made it approachable.
Let me just jump in here an make a meta-observation: I rarely see food bloggers talk about learning cooking techniques through television shows. How is this possible? I’m so grateful for excellent food programming, particularly that shown on PBS, for giving me hands-on lessons in food prep.
The great thing about risotto is that it is a blank canvas. You can make it as simple or as loaded as you’d like, depending on your tastes (and your available ingredients.)
While mushroom risotto is often a go-to for me when I am entertaining, my personal favorite is a simple leek risotto. I’d like to share that with you today.
Risotto requires attention, so a key factor in having your risotto turn out beautifully (and stress-free) is to have everything prepped before you start cooking. Finely chop one onion. Clean 3-4 leeks, cutting the stem down the middle, then thinly slice them, using the white and a bit of the light green stalk. Measure 1 and 1/2 cups of the arborio rice. Measure 1/2 cup of white or dry rosé wine to go in the dish, then pour yourself a glass to sip while cooking (you won’t regret this.) Get your cheese grated. Once you start stirring, you won’t be able to do much else.
Once you’ve prepped, place 4-6 cups of good chicken or vegetable stock in a pot with two cloves of garlic (whole), a bay leaf, and a sprig or two of fresh thyme and/or tarragon, and bring this to a simmer. This can be on a back burner, just make sure it is accessible.
Heat a wide, sauté pan with high sides (you can also use a dutch oven) to medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter—I use a mix, usually—then one finely chopped small onion. Sauté for a minute or two, until the onion begins to wilt and soften, but isn’t deeply colored. Throw in the leeks, and add a pinch of salt. Cook these down until they are soft and fragrant.
Add the rice to the pan, and stir to coat with the leeks and fat. At this point, you have to pay attention to the grains. You will notice, as they get to the right amount of toasting, that they will be translucent at the ends, with a little dot of white in the center. As soon as the rice reaches this point, add the wine to the pan.
You have reached the “constant stirring” stage. I hope you have comfy shoes on and some good tunes playing, because you aren’t leaving the stove for at least 20 minutes. Cook the wine completely out, STIRRING THE WHOLE TIME, then begin adding ladles of the hot broth, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup at a time, straining out the aromatics as you STIR THE WHOLE TIME. Do you get the theme? STIR THE WHOLE TIME.
Again, people think risotto is complicated, but this is really all you need to know: 1) add small amount of warm liquid, 2) stir, 3) when liquid is fully absorbed, repeat, and 4) never stop stirring.
I can’t say exactly how much stock you will use, but once you are at least four cups in, start testing the rice for texture. You want it to hold its shape, but be creamy. It won’t be mushy, but it also won’t be overly firm.
As you get to the end, start adding liquid in smaller amounts, and just check it, check it, check it. You may not use all the stock, you may need to add more water once you’ve gone through it all. Long story short: when the rices tastes like the way you enjoy eating it, you can stop adding liquid.
Immediately take the risotto off the heat, and add a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese, as well as a small pat of butter, stirring them to incoporate (yes, more stirring, but that’s pretty much it.) You may also top this with fresh chopped herbs, spring onions, or even some steamed green peas.
I dare you not to love this dish. I hope it tastes as wonderful as your memories of risottos past with the friend you miss. I’m sure she’ll smile when she hears you are making this!