Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Studio 5: Italian Comfort food ~ Risotto & Arancini


Risotto is to Italians what Mac & Cheese is to Americans...  comfort food. 

Of course, every Italian dish seems 'oh so special', and for good reason;  Italians know how to take simple ingredients and elevate them to restaurant worthy fare, largely because they have patience with food.

And Risotto does require a little patience.  The trade off, however, is worth a few minutes at the stove.

Last week I had to prepare these dishes to photograph for Studio 5.  It ended up being a long day, and I didn't get it done until midnight!

I curled up on the couch, turned on some late-night Fallon, snuggled in a blanket and ate the entire bowl of Risotto.  I didn't plan on it, but it was the perfect food for the perfect setting.  

One of the reasons I wanted to do Risotto for Studio 5 is because it has a reputation, one that I wanted to dispel; that it's difficult, hard to get right and laborious.

I am by no means a Risotto expert, but I did my homework.  I tried several recipes, even the no-stir method (which I don't recommend).

It just isn't that hard or time-consuming.  Beginning to end, about 30 minutes. That includes all 3 stages of making Risotto.

1.  Prepping the rice
2.  Cooking the rice
3.  Finishing the rice

Yes, Risotto does require tending, but not constantly, you can multi-task in the kitchen while you cook it.  clean some dishes, put a salad together, set the table etc...

You'll need a few basic ingredients to get started.  The most important is the rice.  Risotto requires a unique rice called Arborio.  It's a short grained, very starchy rice that if cooked properly will render a beautiful creamy dish.

As well as Chicken stock (Vegetable if you want vegetarian), but Chicken has more flavor, but I've used it in a pinch.
Butter, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, onion.  I also like to add a squeeze of lemon when finishing.  Wine is also used, but you can use stock or water in place.

Basic Risotto Recipe

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine (or use water or stock)
1/2 cup (or so) chopped white or yellow onion
3 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
squeeze of lemon (a few teaspoons) to taste
Chopped green (chives, parsley or basil)
salt to taste


Heat stock in a separate pan. 

Stage 1:  Prepping the rice

In a large heavy bottomed pan (I like to use a cast iron enamel pot) heat oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until softened.

Add rice to pot and stir in briskly with a wooden spoon so grains of rice are coated with oil/butter.   Saute, stirring, for 1-2 minutes until you can start to smell the rice.  Do not brown the rice as that will inhibit the release of starch from the rice.

Add 1/2 cup wine (or broth or water).  Stir and cook until liquid is fully absorbed (about 30 seconds).  This will deglaze the pan, integrating the oil/butter throughout the rice.

Stage 2:  Cooking the rice

Add about a cup (about a ladleful) of hot stock to pan, stir and cook for approx. 5 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding a cup of stock and cooking it off about every 5 minutes.

To begin with, the liquid might cook off in as little as 3 minutes, then that time will extend the longer the rice cooks.  But it should only take a total of 20 minutes total to cook, so you might want to put a timer for that.

Do not boil rice, just a nice simmer .  You should see some bubbles, but it should not be roiling/boiling. 

You do need to stir occasionally, but not constantly.  Check for liquid absorption frequently.  If you let it dry out and cook that way, the rice with get mushy.

It will take about 20 - 25 minutes to cook the rice from when you started adding stock.  This depends on your pot, how well it holds the heat and your stove top temp.  If you run out of stock and your rice still isn't cooked, just add a little water now until it's cooked.

The BEST way to determine when Risotto is cooked is to taste it.  After 15 minutes, start to taste a few kernels of rice.  Properly cooked it should be soft on the outside, but have a bit of resistance in the middle (al dente).  Do not overcook.  As soon as it's right, turn the heat off.

Stage 3:  Finishing Risotto

Add 2 more Tbsp of butter and vigorously beat it in (you are emulsifying the starch with the added fat).  Then add cheese & Parsley (or other green) and beat again.  Salt to taste.  Add a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Taste.

Add a few Tbsp of cream and stir.

Like all starchy sauces, it will seize (get thick) with time, so it's best to have it a little runny so that by the time you serve, it will be the right consistency.

You can add water, stock or/or cream to loosen Risotto up a bit. 

It should run like hot lava across the plate.  It should not be soupy.  It should not be sticky and form a mound.


You can eat Risotto just plain, but it's very easy to add things to it, as it's done at the end.   

My favorite is...
·        Peas & Mushrooms:  Sauce mushrooms and peas in some butter, stir in or place on top.

·         Asparagus: nice for a spring dish

·         Seafood:  nice for a dinner party.  Scallops, Shrimp or even better, Lobster!
But wait!  There's more...

why do leftovers have such a bad reputation?  I love leftovers.  They often taste better the next day and saves me time in the kitchen.

Aracini is a perfect example.  Made from left-over Risotto, it will take you minutes to stuff and roll these into balls, deep fry and serve with some marinara sauce and salad.  Quick, delicious lunch or dinner!  Also a very pretty appetizer for a dinner party.

A friend of ours, who lived in Sicily when he was young, shared this uniquely Sicilian dish with us a few years back.  Although it is served throughout Italy now as street food and as appetizers in restaurants.

Typically, Sicilians make them quite large, about the size of a baseball.  I prefer a smaller size (icecream scoop works well) so the rice/cheese/crispy outside is a better ratio.

Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls)

Left-over Risotto
Cheese or other fillings
Seasoned Bread crumbs
Oil to fry with


Scoop cold Risotto into your hand and made a well with your fingers.  Stuff with a piece of cheese (mozzarella or any good melting cheese works well).  Re-form the ball over the cheese. 

Roll in breadcrumbs and deep fry at 360 for approx. 2 minutes until golden brown, the rice is hot and the cheese has melted.

Serve on a bed or marinara sauce, with droplets of pesto and a scattering of fresh basil and parmesan cheese.

Make tiny Arancini balls as an party food!


LeAnn said...

I want to eat at your house!!

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