Sunday, January 27, 2013

Risotto: The Epic Search and Winning Recipes




I have opened an enormous can of worms... a search for a risotto recipe. As you can see below, there are a lot of recipes that look delicious out there.

Thinking of all the types of risotto gives me memories of a few movie scenes. First, there's the scene from Forrest Gump where Bubba talks about all the types of shrimp and ways of making it:


Or the one from Best in Show, where Harlen Pepper recalls all the types of nut that he could list as a kid:


This is exactly how I felt when I started researching risotto. There's risotto milanese, shrimp risotto, beet risotto, butternut squash risotto, squid ink risotto, vegetarian risotto, spring vegetable risotto, risotto with hazelnut, champagne risotto, red wine risotto, breakfast risotto, dessert risotto, farro, barley, orzo, and couscous "risotto," risotto cakes, risotto balls, swiss chard stuffed with risotto... the list goes on. Here is a glimpse of my tabs during research time:


For the record, I only tabbed vegetarian risotto recipes, and I also have a few hard-copy cookbooks piled around me that I am using. This is an endeavor, but an enlightening one.

What is risotto?
Risotto, from what I have learned, first became possible through the Arab influence in Italy combined with the fertile Mediterranean soil that worked so well with the short-grain rice (arborio remains the most common risotto rice). In Milan, the Middle Eastern spices like saffron joined forces with the traditional slow cooking style of the region and the availability of this short, fat rice. Thus, risotto was born in its most classic form, Risotto Milanese. That was the short version-- for more info on the history of risotto, check out this intriguing site.

How did I choose?
I knew from the get go that I couldn't possibly choose just one risotto to make, so I started narrowing down my favorites to three. I wanted one that was traditional or straightforward, I wanted one packed with veggies, and I wanted one that was a little unique and quirky. I would love to make them all, but since I can't I'll just link them all for you.

Traditional & Simple Risotto:
Risotto Milanese (Simple Italian Food)

Veggie-Packed Risotto:
Leek, Mushroom, and Lemon Risotto (Vegetarian)
Risotto with Asparagus and Fennel (Simple Italian Food)

Unique & Quirky Risotto:

The Winners:
Traditional & Simple Risotto: Risotto Milanese (Simple Italian Food)
Veggie Packed Risotto: Leek, Mushroom, and Lemon Risotto, replacing the mushrooms with artichoke hearts (Vegetarian)
Unique & Quirky Risotto: Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese Risotto (Bon Appetit)

The Recipe: Risotto Milanese, adapted from Mario Batali's Simple Italian Food
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preparation:
  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent but not browned.
  • Add the saffron and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes, until the rice is al dente, creamy, and tender.
  • Stir in the butter and cheese until well incorporated. Serve immediately.


The Recipe: Leek, Artichoke, and Lemon Risotto, adapted from Linda Fraser's Vegetarian 
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 8 oz leeks, washed, green parts removed, and white part roughly chopped
  • 8 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup mixed chopped chives and flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and pepper

Preparation:
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic, leeks, artichoke hearts, and salt and pepper for about 10 minutes, until softened and browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Add 2 tbsp of butter to the pan and cook the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the rice and cook for 3-4 minutes, coating the rice with butter and onion until the rice turns opaque. 
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  •  In about 20-25 minutes, the rice should be thick and creamy, al dente, and not sticky.
  • Just before serving, stir in the leeks, artichoke hearts, the remaining butter, 3 tbsp of lemon juice, half the parmesan, and the herbs. Season with salt and pepper if necessary and stir until incorporated. Serve immediately.
The Recipe: Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Blue Cheese Risotto, adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
  • 5 cups hot vegetable stock
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cups butternut squash meat (from a 2 lb squash), cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
Preparation:
  • Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent.
  • Add the squash and half the rosemary; saute 4 minutes to coat with butter.
  • Add rice and stir for 3-4 minutes until rice is opaque.
  • Add wine and simmer until evaporated, about 1 minute.
  • Add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock one ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more.
  • Once rice is plump, al dente, and creamy, stir in the spinach, cream, parmesan cheese, and blue cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Seem overwhelming? It's not! There are a few things that stay the same no matter the risotto recipe. Stay tuned for how it all turns out, as well as my tips for making three risottos at once without wanting to pull your hair out.

Time to memorize: 4 days

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