Recently I have been experimenting a lot with Risotto. From trying different stocks / fumes (which are always the soul of your risotto) to playing around with various combinations such as basil, sun dried tomato & pine nuts, or fennel, saffron & mushroom, or perhaps shrimp stock, chilly and sun dried tomato, my personal discovery is this: less is more. My recent favorite is a simple risotto with finely diced sautéed fennel root, butter and pine nuts. Sometimes I top it with a few dashes of truffle oil or Trumpet mushrooms sautéed in butter. Risotto is one of the dishes that definitely benefits from butter. Whereas I still use it sparingly I usually add around 1-2 teaspoons for the proportions below.
1 ½ cup of Arborio Rice
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or shrimp fume, or water or mushroom infused liquid *
1 cup of cheap light white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, etc)
¼ cup of toasted pine nuts
1 cup of diced fennel root
1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese
Butter, Salt, Olive Oil, Truffle oil (optional)
Methods: Sauté, Simmer, Fry
Cookware: Heavy Stainless Steel or Copper Sauté Pan.
Preheat a large Sauté Pan, Rondeau or a cast iron braiser pan. Sauté fennel on medium heat in butter and oil for around 5 minutes, adding a pinch of salt, making sure fennel is translucent and tender but not browned. Add a bit more butter and stir in rice. Coat rice in butter and sauté, stirring constantly, until rice turns translucent and absorbs the fat. This process should take 2-3 minutes or so. Make sure not to brown or burn the rice. Slowly add the wine and keep stirring risotto until wine is almost completely absorbed.
The trick with making risotto is to never let the pan get quite dry and never drown the rice in liquid. Start slowly adding warmed up stock a ladleful at a time to your risotto, stirring constantly, making sure (whatever you do – please make sure of that!!!) that you do not let the liquid dry out completely. Your rice should always be covered with a little liquid. Keep repeating these steps, stirring constantly and watching risotto until all stock is absorbed. (25-30 minutes, depending on choice of cookware) Right before the stock is all absorbed, preheat a copper or cast iron skillet to med-high heat.
Slice a few trumpet mushroom in half and slice some more in thinner 1 ½ – 2 inch slices. Sprinkle with salt and sauté in butter and oil, turning the large mushrooms only once on the side, thus browning them well. Meanwhile finish risotto, by adding a little bit more butter and Parmesan cheese. Let the butter melt, stir in all the cheese and make sure all liquid is “almost all” absorbed. I always leave a little liquid in and take risotto off heat – it will absorb completely in the next 5-10 minutes as it stands. Finish the mushrooms, making sure they are golden brown on both sides. Stir in the thinner mushroom into risotto, and add the thicker pieces on the top, to garnish the dish. Stir in freshly toasted pine nuts. This is the time to add a few drops of truffle oil. I recommend you taste your risotto as is prior to doing it, as you might not like the strong flavor of truffles.
In any case, if you choose to use truffle oil, add just a dash and maybe only to half of risotto. You should serve it immediately, don’t let it wait too long.
Tips & Tricks:
I use, and only suggest using, heavy cookware made of cast iron, copper or tri/ 5 ply steel. (sauté pan is my choice, although I also use a enamel coated cast iron rondeau – shallow sides, wide shape)
Non-stick pans are bullshit: they are too light, burn your food and are not healthy for you. If you use something that is too thin and light, odds are it will burn your risotto or your liquid will evaporate too quickly, leaving risotto too al-dente (not fully cooked, in plain English)
If you let your pan get dry the starch of rice will burn, causing it to get clumpy and sticky.
If you drown the pan in liquid, rice will get mushy. You gotta keep the perfect balance, always adding liquid slowly, warm and never letting the rice dry out completely.
Stock is important – care to make your own, homemade, good tasting stock. Store bought stocks are usually an over-salted, dried out cubes or sodium-ridden powders not worth cooking with. I don’t salt stock when I make it.
Salting rice is important – it does something to make it taste better. I usually add around a teaspoon for the proportions above.
* Take dried mushrooms (porcini, etc, be careful with shittake as they are highly flavorful) pour a cup of hot water over them and let stand for an hour. Use water as part of stock.