At some point in the past few years when people were eating a lot of risotto and talking about eating risotto, I decided to find out what the big deal was about making it.
It’s not a super big deal. It requires time and attention, and a few good ingredients. I learned a simple method that I enjoy the results of from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, and have modified the process just slightly to suit my taste.
What you do is cook some onions and/or garlic in a little oil for a couple minutes, then add Arborio rice and stir it around til it starts to brown, then you add broth that is boiling in readiness, one ladle at a time. You watch it cook and maybe adjust the heat if it seems too high, and you stir it as you watch, but you don’t have to stir constantly like with Hollandaise sauce or custard, and in a few minutes you add another ladle of broth and go again.
One ladle at a time, this rice cooks, until, if you like, just before the last ladle is poured in, you add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms that you plumped when you first set the broth to boiling.
At the end, you stir in some good parmesan cheese (you could get a bag or tub pre-shaved or shredded from the grocery deli area or buy a wedge and grate some, but don’t use the shelf-stable paper can one) and add a little freshly cracked pepper.
You need to use good broth, though it doesn’t have to be homemade. Make sure you’ve tasted and enjoyed it before using it in the rice, and make sure it is just a little salty but not very salty.
And you need, absolutely, to have everything ready and in place before you begin the cooking. This is the meditative thing; you arrange nice ingredients that will taste good together so that they’re to hand when you need them. And as you add and stir and adjust, you have nothing else you need to think about until it’s ready to serve in nice bowls you have set out for it. You define what nice is your own way.
For two hearty servings, I use the following:
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil + 1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed, but those would be okay*) or dried mushrooms
2 1/2 cups chicken broth (if you do not use dried tomatoes or mushrooms, you need only 2 cups)
3 tablespoons shaved parmesan
black pepper, preferably that you grind yourself
two saucepans, a wooden spoon, and a 1/2 cup sized soup ladle or ladle substitute that won't burn your hand
Make sure your work area is clean and clear. Pour yourself a nice glass of ice water or tea or wine or soda, and set out two bowls you like, or a bowl and a leftover container. Maybe you should play some quiet music if you like to do that while cooking.
Chop the onion and slice the garlic, then heat the oil and butter in a saucepan on medium. While that’s heating, add the broth to the other saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Saute the onion and garlic for a couple minutes, letting it soften but not burn. When your broth comes to a boil, add your sun-dried tomatoes (or mushrooms) if you are using them, to the broth, put a lid on it or mostly on it, and turn it down to simmer at a low boil.
Add the rice to the pan with the onions and garlic, and stir it around, letting it cook for a few minutes until it starts to brown. Then add a ladleful of broth to the pan; do use enough to cover the surface, but not any more than that. It will sizzle at first. You might need to turn the heat down to medium-low for a gentler boil. Stir it, then watch as the rice begins to soak up the broth. Stir again every minute or so.
In a few minutes, when the liquid is mostly soaked up, add another ladleful of broth and stir again. By now, the dried tomatoes or mushrooms will be softened; strain them from the broth and set them on a cutting board to cool for a few minutes.
Keep adding ladlefuls of broth, stirring and watching the process, making sure you maintain a low boil. Chop the cooled tomatoes or mushrooms, then when there’s about one ladleful of broth left, and the rice looks soft, stir those in, add the remaining liquid, and wait a little longer til the liquid is finally absorbed. The process slows down as the rice cooks, but you will enjoy being patient and watching it happen, because you are making a simple but groovy dish for yourself. With regular ol’ rice, all you do is put a lid on and set a timer.
Stir in most of the parmesan cheese, then divide the risotto between the two bowls or bowl and container, and add a little freshly ground pepper on top with the remaining bit of cheese.
Sit at your dining table if you have one, or a nice spot you like if you don’t, to enjoy this food you created.
*If you use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drain them well, chop, add at same point. I think they'd be more pungent, though.