By Angela Denstad Stigeler
If you’re in a dinner slump, it may at first be hard to see the connection of being at a loss of meal ideas and a restaurant-style Italian rice dish. But twice last week when people bemoaned needing something new I mentioned that I was making a risotto, and their eyes lit up with the revelation. When I next offered assurance that it’s not that hard to make, their looks of vague distress melted into smiles of assurance. I’m sure at least one of them went right to the store for some short-grain rice.
The thing about risotto is to plump the grains of rice slowly and steadily, by adding liquid a little at a time. By using short, starchy varieties of rice and sautéing—never rinsing—the rice beforehand, the grains will plump and the starches will contribute to the rice’s own creamy sauce. Somewhere between soupy rice and thickened pudding, the rice grains should remain distinct, and even al dente, but the dish as a whole should almost slump, if you will, on the plate.
Risotto can be flavored in innumerable ways or paired with any simple protein from fish and shrimp to beef or chicken or cheese. Add some sautéed vegetables and it’s a meal in itself. But also, this culinary tour de force can take us on a tour of Italy, as well—from Milan, whence the following recipe hails; to Sicily, where next week’s recipe will cleverly make use of any leftovers in some classic street food known as arancini.
Risotto alla Milenese
5 cups chicken broth
a large pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli or other short-grain rice
½ cup dry white wine (optional)
2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno Reggiano cheese
For the risotto:
Combine the broth and saffron in a small saucepan and heat to simmering on a back burner. Keep the broth warm. On the front burner, heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed high-sided pan or Dutch oven. Sauté the onion with a pinch of salt for a few minutes until it softens, but don’t let it brown. Add the rice, raise the heat a little and toast the rice for a couple of minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains appear translucent around the edges. Add the wine, if using, and stir, letting it cook entirely away. Add a couple of ladlesful of broth and stir. Lower the heat as necessary so the risotto remains at a gentle simmer. When the rice has absorbed the broth, add two more ladlesful. Continue adding broth as needed. If the liquid immediately fills a line drawn through the rice with your spoon, let it cook some more; if it remains clear, add more broth. Keep adding broth and stirring, repeating until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. You may not use all the broth. If you don’t have enough broth, continue with plain water. Add the grated cheese and mix. Turn the heat off and cover the risotto to let it rest a few minutes before serving. It should be eaten soon after making.
For Sicilian Arancini
Save some cooked risotto in the refrigerator and consult next week’s Thyme Out.