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How to cook like an Italian

Risotto, a labor of love

Risotto is a dish that is fairly easy to make correctly, if you know how.  You have to understand why you take the steps a recipe tells you to take and once you get it, you can improvise and wing it a little, but there are some key things you need to know when tackling this delicious dish.

Risotto is a kind of Italian rice, you can usually find Arborio or Canaroli in your grocery store and either one will work.  You can’t use regular long grain rice as it does not release enough starch, which is a key component of this masterful dish and is what makes it so rich and creamy.

You typically start a risotto by sauteeing finely chopped onions and garlic in a heavy bottomed pot until they are very soft and translucent but not browned or burned at all.  You can add a little bit of chicken stock at this stage to keep the onions from sticking and burning and to give them more moisture to absorb which will make them almost melt a bit.

Once whatever liquid you add to the onions is absorbed, then you add the rice and saute it with the onions and garlic until it is toasted a bit.  This is an important step as it will lock the moisture into the rice so it will stay firm on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Otherwise you will wind up with mushy risotto and you want it to have a little bite to it.

At this stage you add some wine, which adds wonderful flavor but the acid also cuts through the starch so you don’t wind up with something too thick.  You must stir the risotto almost constantly so it doesn’t stick to the pan and the movement helps incorporate air into the mixture and allows it to evaporate. Once the wine is absorbed and you see the risotto start to pull away from the pan, you add a ladleful of your main liquid-chicken broth or whatever else you are using, which by the way should be hot.  You do not want to add cold liquid to the risotto.  Keep it warm in a nearby pan and start adding, one ladleful at a time and stir until it evaporates as the wine did.  Once you see the bottom of the pan while stirring, add another ladle of liquid.

There are various ways you can end this dish from this point forward, so read a few of Rachael’s recipes for inspiration:

Tomato-Saffron Risotto Milanese

Serves 4
Photo Above/Photo credit: Tina Rupp

Ingredients
  • 4 orange or yellow tomatoes (about 2 pounds), flesh scooped out and skin discarded
  • One 32-ounce container (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 pinches saffron threads (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (eyeball it)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 2 cups arugula or baby spinach (a few generous handfuls)
  • 1/2 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (a generous handful)
Preparation

Using a food processor, puree the orange tomatoes. Pour into a medium saucepan and add the chicken broth and saffron. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then keep warm over low heat.

In a deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the rice to coat with the oil, increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook until slightly evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in a couple ladlefuls of the warm tomato broth, stirring constantly until absorbed, about 1 minute. Continue adding the broth, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, stirring after each addition until absorbed and to prevent sticking. Cook until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy but not soupy, about 18 minutes. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, stir in the butter.

In a bowl, toss the arugula and grape tomatoes with the lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon EVOO; season with salt and pepper.

Stir the cheese into the risotto; season with pepper. Serve in shallow bowls topped with the salad.

OR TRY

Drunken Risotto with Grilled Chicken

Serves 4
Photo credit: Tina Rupp

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (eyeball it)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (eyeball it)
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning, such as McCormick brand Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 2 cups Barolo (dry Italian) red wine (2/3 bottle)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (about 4 sprigs)
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (a few generous handfuls)
  • 2 cups arugula, shredded
  • 2 cups baby spinach, shredded
Preparation

Pre-heat a grill or a grill pan to medium-high.

In a shallow dish, combine the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, 3 tablespoons of the EVOO and the grill seasoning. Add the chicken thighs and turn to coat evenly with the marinade.

In a small saucepan, heat the dried mushrooms and chicken broth over medium-low heat.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining EVOO, two turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes to soften. Add the rice, stir to coat and cook for 1 minute. Add half of the wine; when it has been absorbed by the rice, stir in the remaining wine and the rosemary. When all of the wine is absorbed, ladle in some of the mushroom broth.

Place the marinated chicken thighs on the grill and cook for 7-8 minutes on the first side and for 5-6 minutes on the reverse side.

Add a ladle of the mushroom broth to the risotto every few minutes, stirring occasionally and cooking until absorbed. Remove the softened mushrooms from the broth and chop; add to the risotto. Cook the risotto until creamy and al dente, 20-22 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the butter and cheese.

Thinly slice the grilled chicken. Divide the risotto among shallow bowls and top each serving with the arugula, spinach and sliced chicken.

More Rachael Ray risotto recipes can be found HERE


8 Responses to “Risotto, a labor of love”

  1. Susan M says:

    I like to add finely chopped carrots and celery with the onion and garlic. Also I sometimes make it with asparagus or peas. Puree some of the peas or asparagus in a food processor to add to the broth. Add the cooked vegetable at the end. The quality of every ingredient makes a difference, especially the broth and the cheese. It’s a wonderful dish with many possibilities.

  2. darrell says:

    went to your website,

    i copyed how to make your chicken but wantsd your potatoes and gravey but nothing came up would like it so could you send it to me thanks darrell

  3. Danita says:

    Hi Rachael
    I watch you all the time and I love your recipes, my question is you use dark meat chicken in a lot of your recipes I don’t care for dark meat so can I use white meat. If I do will this alter the recipe too much.
    Thank you

  4. Evalie Callahan says:

    I love risotto and was so happy to find the two recipes in this email. Thanks Rachael for finding so many foods I have never tried, that are easy and good to cook and have added immensely to my recipes.

  5. martha 398 says:

    I was wondering if I can use skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs. My family only likes the white meat.

  6. Joy Walden says:

    I had a recipe long ago that was for something called Roman Stew. It had a bunch of olive oil, I remember 3/4 of a cup, cici bean, anchovies and parsley. Do you know of any dish like this? Thank you.

  7. Joy says:

    I cannot drink wine of any kind because I have a really bad reaction to it.

    A lot of the recipes I see that sound so good require wine as an ingredient. Is there something I can substitute that won’t alter the recipe too much?

  8. Sam says:

    Can Risotto be made ahead and reheated?

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