Written by Ian Graves & Illustrated by Christina Bennett
Risotto. Just mentioning this creamy rice dish gets me salivating. Whether making a single serving for a snack or preparing it as a fancy side paired with a beef tenderloin, risotto is easily my favorite thing to make and then brag about to a friend as evidence of my highly sophisticated cooking skills.
For me personally, I like cooking a lemony risotto with some fresh parsley, because if you don’t want to take the time to dress up your rice, you are probably better off just eating sand or something. Otherwise, let’s get cooking! After you plug in your favorite Italian music playlist, get out two pots or a pot and medium saucepan. As with many recipes involving sauce-like properties, start out with half an onion and a few cloves of garlic. I like to chop everything pretty fine and then sauté the onions in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for around five minutes or until they are soft enough to cut through with a spatula. Then add the garlic, but only let it cook for about a minute.
While the onions are sweating, heat up a pot filled with a few cups of chicken stock. Some recipes call for water as well, but that’s just dumb and chicken stock is only a few dollars so do the right thing and only use chicken stock. Next, it’s time for the star of the show: Arborio Rice. Arborio Rice is just a starchy kind of rice that you can find in most grocery stores around the foreign food section. The biggest thing to keep in mind when deciding how much to add is that the rice is very deceiving and the volume will end up doubling once it is finished. A half-cup, uncooked, serves about one person and a cup and a half would be good for four people.
Add the dry rice into the pan with the onion and garlic and let it cook for a couple minutes so the coating of the rice can cook off. Next, add about a cup of white wine, just anything that you wouldn’t mind drinking afterwards. Once the alcohol cooks off (about 5 minutes), add a few ladles full of stock to the rice. This is the point of no return because you must keep stirring the pot while the liquid evaporates, making sure to keep adding small amounts of the stock to replace the liquid. The more strenuously you stir, the more the starches will start to develop and the more flavorful the rice will be. No matter what, you can’t stop stirring. Need to use the bathroom? Keep stirring. House is on fire? Keep stirring. Arms are falling off? Keep stirring. No distractions, it’s only you and the risotto. Every so often taste the rice to see if it’s cooked (I look for a soft texture). The whole process shouldn’t take any longer than 45 minutes or so. I like to pass the time just taking in the great smells, or belting out “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin, either will do the trick.
Now comes the flavor part. Add a pat of butter and then add a bunch of Pecorino Romano cheese. I want none of this crappy dandruff Kraft Parmesan BS. No, you need the real deal, kinda pricey parm. The more Italian sounding the better. Again, if you don’t want to treat your risotto with respect, then continue eating the sand from the second paragraph. This is also where the lemon comes in. I am a big fan of lemon so I use two, but if you only want a hint, just use the juice of one lemon, and if you have the ability, some lemon zest would also be nice. Then add some fresh herbs, namely basil and parsley, which will also add some desperately needed color to the dish. Once all those ingredients are added, it’s pretty much done. I let it cook for a bit longer so it’s not super soupy.
My favorite pairing would be sautéed chicken breasts with a caper lemon sauce, but for those who are less meat-inclined, I would cook up some mushrooms with assorted herbage and add those in along with the cheese and butter. What’s nice about risotto is that it’s a blank canvas to which you can add pretty much anything. Just make sure to always add the butter and parm. Although this may not be the most heart-healthy meal, it is absolutely delicious. Happy eating!