Tips for the Perfect Risotto

Tips for the Perfect Risotto

What is Risotto?

Risotto rice is a starchy short grain rice featuring prominently Italian cuisine. It’s usually labeled Arborio. When it is cooked, some of the starch comes out of the rice, making it a creamy dis.h

How to make Risotto

Micol Negrin, culinary director at New York City’s Italian Culinary Center and editor of La Cucina Italiana magazine; Gianni Scappin, chef-consultant and co-author of the forthcoming “Cucina & Famiglia” (William Morrow), and Luca Marcato, chef-owner of Luca, a Manhattan restaurant, offer these tips on how to make risotto.

Equipment: Use a heavy pot, ideally copper, because it distributes heat well, but stainless steel will work. Also, make sure it’s a pot with good handles for all that stirring, and use a wooden spoon.

Ingredients: Use fresh, top-grade, seasonal ingredients. These may include Swiss chard, collard greens, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash and pumpkin in late summer and fall; high-quality short-grain rice; extra-virgin olive oil; homemade stock if possible, and good Parmesan cheese.

Scappin advises keeping vegetarian risottos simple and mild-tasting, because “you want to taste the creaminess of the rice.” He recommends combining delicately flavoured vegetables such as artichokes, zucchini and peas that “create a little family because they get along together.”

He cautions against putting together strong-tasting vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, roasted red peppers or beets, since the flavors can be overwhelm the taste of the risotto.

Soffritto: This is the risotto’s aromatic flavour base. To make it, sweat onions or shallots in the chosen fat (olive oil, butter, or a combination of both) over medium-low heat, until translucent, but not brown.

Toasting the rice: Adding the rice to the saucepan on the heat without any liquid is an important step, because how it is done can determine the final texture of the risotto. Toasting the rice quickly heats up the grain’s exterior, prevents it from breaking, and seals in the starch. Negrin recommends toasting approximately 4 minutes. Scappin suggests toasting the rice until it is hot to the touch. And the color should remain pearly white, not turn brown.

Stock: Use vegetable stock for vegetable-based risottos. For risottos with meat and poultry, try to use stock of the same meat or poultry. It is important to add hot stock, not cold, to the rice during the cooking process. Adding cold broth to hot rice results in a hard, uncooked kernel in the center of the grain. Negrin recommends adding more stock, about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup, at the beginning, and decreasing the amount to 1/2 to 1/4 cup toward the end of the cooking process. Adding too much broth at the end can result in overcooked risotto.

At the point of adding hot broth to the rice, have the heat at medium-low or medium.

Rice al dente: Begin tasting the rice about 14 to 16 minutes after the first cup of broth is added. Cook the rice until it is “al dente,” or as Negrin describes it, when “the tooth still finds a little bit of resistance when it bites in when you chew. It shouldn’t be rock hard in the center and mushy on the outside.”

Mantecatura: This the last, essential step, when butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese are vigorously stirred into the risotto off the heat. This step binds the ingredients together, giving it that desirable creaminess.

At the mantecatura stage, a vegetable puree may be used as a low-fat alternatives to butter. However, Marcato recommends finishing vegetarian risottos with butter to balance the acidity if wine or tomatoes have been added.

Aim for creamy texture. Perfectly cooked risotto should not be hard and stick to the serving spoon, nor should it be so liquid that it runs off your plate. The texture should be supple and fluid, with a creamy, slightly soupy consistency, but with body.

 Risotto Recipes

Two recipes offer very different but equally stylish risottos for family dining or for entertaining guests.

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Lobster and Sage is a dish to prepare as the days get shorter, and the air turns crisp. This beautiful risotto combines fall produce with almost everyone’s favorite seafood, lobster. Serve it with a green salad, a loaf of bread, and a rich white wine for an easy, elegant meal.

No, Strawberry Risotto is not dessert! An adventurous, new-Italian twist on classic risotto, it is actually more savory than sweet, with the barest hint of strawberry flavor. A touch of Marsala wine gives the dish a certain finesse. Top the risotto with a few sprigs of lightly steamed asparagus for a picture-perfect starter course.

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Lobster and Sage

Recipe adapted from “Cucina & Famiglia” (William Morrow) by Joan Tropiano Tucci and Gianni Scappin, with Mimi Shaft and Stanley Tucci.

8 cups chicken broth, approximately (this is probably more liquid than you will need to use)
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup minced onions
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/4-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
2 cups Arborio rice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1/2 pound cooked lobster meat, cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 cup)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • In a large saucepan, whisk together the chicken broth and pumpkin puree. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and leave the broth at a gentle simmer. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook until softened but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir squash in with the onions and cook about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the rice, sage and 2 cups of the simmering broth. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce the heat to a simmer. When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add half the lobster meat and 1/2 cup of the simmering broth. Stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently after each addition and allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more.
  • After 15 minutes, taste a grain of rice. It should have a slight resistance to the bite. If it seems too hard, add 1/4 cup more broth and continue cooking for another minute or two until broth has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining lobster. Remove pot from heat.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Add the brandy, parsley, butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously to incorporate all the ingredients. Cover,and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Variations:

  • An additional 1/4 pound chopped butternut squash may be substituted for the pumpkin puree.
  • Crabmeat or shrimp may be substituted for the lobster.
  • Parmesan cheese may be served as a garnish.

Strawberry Risotto

Recipe adapted from “Risotto” (Macmillan, 1987) by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman.

5 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1/2 cup strawberries, washed, hulls and stems removed, diced
1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
11/2 cups Arborio rice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

  • Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat, leaving broth at a gentle simmer.
  • Heat the butter in a heavy 4-quart casserole over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute for1 to 2 minutes, until it is translucent, being careful not to brown it. Add the strawberries andcontinue cooking until they begin to lose their red color and give up their juices. Add theMarsala and cook until the liquid in the pot is reduced to about 1 tablespoon.
  • Add the rice to the strawberry mixture; using a wooden spoon, stir for 1 minute, makingsure all the grains are well coated. Begin to add the simmering broth, 1/2 cup at a time,stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbedbefore adding the next 1/2 cup. Reserve about 1/4 cup to add at the end.
  • After approximately 18 minutes (from the first addition of broth), taste to see if the rice is aldente (tender but still firm to the bite). If it seems too hard, add 1/4 cup more broth andcontinue cooking for another minute or two. Remove pan from the heat.
  • Add the reserved broth, butter and Parmesan, stirring vigorously to combine with the rice.Cover and let the risotto “rest” a few minutes to absorb the flavors before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Glossary of Italian cooking terms

Riso: Rice.

Risotto: The dish that results from a specific way of cooking short-grain rice, where hot stock is added to the rice, a little at a time, as the rice absorbs it.

Soffritto: The first step in making risotto, where aromatic flavorings such as minced onion, shallots or leeks, are sauteed in butter, olive oil or a combination of both, for several minutes.

Tostatura: Toasting the rice to seal in the starch.

Brodo: Broth, wine or other cooking liquid used to cook the rice.

Condimenti: Ingredients added to flavor risotto: herbs, spices, meats, vegetables, seafood, cheese and so on.

Al dente: Literally “to the bite,” the phrase describes a chewy, but slightly resistant texture.

Mantecatura: The final step in making risotto, when butter or olive oil and grated cheese are vigorously incorporated into the risotto, binding the ingredients and achieving a creamy texture.

All’onda: “On the wave,” a descriptive term suggesting how risotto should “flow” when ladled onto a plate.