“Want to write about risotto this week, Mandy?”
Sure, I said, and immediately started an impromptu interview with Chef Phoebe about her risotto. Questions and more questions. Our little tete-a-tete became more like an interrogation, I’m afraid. (I’m the front-of-the-house gal for a reason.) So, just as quick as our talk about this dish began, it came to an equally abrupt halt. “Let’s talk about this later, okay?” she encouraged politely. That was last Wednesday.
Thursday morning came around and I was determined to write all that I have learned about Phoebe’s risotto when it appeared – an email from my business partner.
It started off: Mandy, here’s what I know about risotto:
As customers go, I find that they don’t normally order risotto from a restaurant. Why? I think it’s mostly because they are unsure of how it will turn out. As cooks at home, they never make it because they know how it’s going to turn out. Making risotto is an art. It is a process. You can’t just boil water and throw in some Aborio rice and have turn out miraculously done to perfection. It’s an arduous, thoughtful and patient process that is required in order to have your risotto come out just right.
Let us take a moment to look at its history. While there are conflicting opinions on the historical intricacies, the rice was first introduced to Italy by Spain and the Arabs during the Middle Ages. Aborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice. It is named after the town of Aborio, in the valley of Po, where it is grown.
The popularity of the rice grew through Italy, primarily among the wealthy. But as the time passed, it became available in abundance to all. Lucky us. But enough about the history of the rice; lets get down to its “personality”.
As I said before one needs to be patient with this particular dish, you have to respect the grain. For a few years I just went through the motions of making risotto: following a recipe which, as you know, is something I very rarely do. Then one day during the winter Olympics, one of the morning talk shows did a segment on the history of making risotto and the rice itself. Remember, Mandy, how I insisted on a TV in the kitchen to keep me company during the long winter months? Well, it has payed off.
It was at that time that I began to give the respect that the dish deserved. In doing so I perfected the art, I believe, of making risotto. I used to dread having to go to The Paddle to make the risotto because it was a process and took quite a bit of time. But now, to this day, I bask in the journey the rice takes from a hard grain to a yummy saucy dish. A journey, I must admit, that has profoundly affected me as a chef.
There are very few dishes as versatile as risotto. At its simplest, risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish. By adding other ingredients to the risotto base, it can parlay into a variety of yummy dishes that can either stand-alone or complement any protein (or vegetable) you choose.
One of the things that I do with my risotto is complement salmon. I have my base and just add some asiago cheese (you can use any type of cheese you like), dried cranberries, fresh ginger root, green onions and a little heavy cream. The goal is to try and fuse all the ingredients together to end up with a yummy, creamy dish.
Once I became familiar with this process of making risotto, there was literally no stopping me on how many varieties of the dish I could create! I make a shiitake and portabella mushroom risotto, with a little truffle oil for the pan, seared oven-roasted duck breast. The seafood risotto using caramelized scallops and chunks of lobster meat, with a roasted red pepper, caramelize onion and Parmesan cheese risotto is a huge hit among guests. For truly a wonderful lighter main course our oat and curry crusted Chilean seabass with a fresh strawberry, fresh mango and green onion risotto is perfect.
People love it! And, on some nights, I often find myself making more side dishes of risotto then the main meal.
Risotto is one of the few dishes that time has not changed. Today the dish is still served, almost unchanged in kitchens and restaurants all over the world.
Hope this helps, Mandy, with your column.
Well, Phoebe, I couldn’t have said it better!
Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.
This is just the risotto base. With this base, you can add your own ingredients to make the risotto you want. For example. Parmesan cheese and green onion. Mix these ingredients with a bit of cream into your base to make a green onion and Parmesan cheese risotto. Or you may want a roasted red pepper and caramelized onion risotto. The sky is the limit, my fellow risotto lovers.
Total Time: 40 minutes
Makes 6-8 servings
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 1 quart chicken stock
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 medium shallot
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Heat the stock to a simmer in a separate pot. Remove from heat and put in measuring cup.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot or onion. Sauté for 2-3 minutes or until it is slightly translucent.
Add the rice to the pot and stir it briskly with a wooden spoon so that the grains are coated with the oil. Sauté for another minute or so, until there is a slightly nutty aroma. But don’t let the rice turn brown.
Add the wine and cook while stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed.
Add a ladle of hot chicken stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and repeat the process.
Note: It’s important to stir constantly, especially while the hot stock gets absorbed, to prevent scorching, and add the next ladle as soon as the rice is almost dry.
Continue adding ladles of hot stock and stirring the rice while the liquid is absorbed. As it cooks, you’ll see that the rice will take on a creamy consistency as it begins to release its natural starches.
Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time, for 20-30 minutes or until the grains are tender but still firm to the bite, without being crunchy. If you run out of stock and the risotto still isn’t done, you can finish the cooking using hot water. Just add the water as you did with the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring while it’s absorbed.
Risotto turns glutinous if held for too long, you should serve it right away. A properly cooked risotto should form a soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate. It shouldn’t run across the plate, nor should it be stiff or gluey.