There’s a rapidly growing list of items I will almost never order in restaurants. I’ll save the entire list for a different post maybe, but risotto is definitely on the list. It’s rice. I refuse to pay $15 for it unless it has some show-stopping add-ins in which case it’s probably $30.
The reason most restaurants get off charging that much is because there’s an illusion that it’s hard to make. Just the name conjures up an image of a sweaty Italian chef stirring away for hours over a skillet of perfectly bubbling rice.
It’s just not that hard. To be honest, I think making a super-delicious burger is harder than making decent risotto. So when this dish won the poll last week I knew I wanted to try something a bit different. On a whim, I decided to stir in a few of my favorite dip ingredients into the pot and it turned out to be awesomely wonderful.
Because risotto gets creamy without actual cream, the finished version of this dish will remind you of the classic dip, except with rice and vegetables. In other words, eat as much as you want.
1) In a medium pot, heat vegetable stock until it's steaming. You don't need it at a boil, but it should be hot.
2) In a large, high-walled skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil followed by the onion and garlic. Cook until onion is soft, about 4 minutes, stirring regularly.
3) Add rice to the pan and cook for a minute or two until rice is hot. Add lemon juice to deglaze pan.
4) After lemon juice, start ladling in hot stock in 3/4 cup batches, stirring constantly after you pour in the stock. There's no need to stir constantly once the stock is stirred in, but do keep an eye on the risotto so it doesn't dry out.
5) When the pan is dry and rice is thick, add more stock. You should be adding more stock every 3-4 minutes.
6) After 5-6 cups of stock, the rice should be fairly soft, with a tiny bite. You don't want it soggy.
7) Stir in sun-dried tomatoes and spinach and stir to wilt spinach. If rice looks very dry, add another cup of stock so it stays loose.
8) To finish rice, add in chopped artichokes and stir. When spinach is wilted and the dish is a thick, creamy consistency, season with salt and pepper and serve with a heavy dusting of Parmesan cheese.
Risotto is humble food at its core. You don’t need a lot of complicated things to make it, but you do need a special kind of rice. It’s sometimes actually labeled risotto rice, but is more commonly called Arborio rice. There are actually other grains you can use to make risotto, but this is the standard.
An onion, garlic, and a lemon will help get the dish started.
Before you start actually cooking the risotto, be sure to add your stock to a medium to large pot and heat it until it’s steaming. It doesn’t need to be boiling, but it’s important that the stock is hot when you add it to the rice later.
To start the risotto, add a few tablespoons of oil to a high walled skillet (or a Dutch oven will work) over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the veggies are translucent but be careful not to brown them.
Then add in the rice.
Cooking the rice dry in the pan will open up the starches in the grains and make it easier for the liquid to soak in later.
After the rice dry cooks for a minute or two, squeeze in the juice from a lemon. It will evaporate almost immediately. Traditionally, you could also add about 1/3 cup of white wine to the rice at this point. I didn’t have any white wine on this particular day so I just skipped that step. If you have some, feel free to add it for a little extra flavor.
Now for the part that is traditionally considered hard. Start ladling in that steaming stock right into the rice. It’ll bubble and hiss and you’ll want to stir the rice as you add the stock.
It’s my experience that you don’t need to stir the risotto constantly as it cooks, but you do need to keep an eye on it. I usually give mine a good stir when I add stock and then it’s usually fine to sit and bubble for a minute or two. Then I’ll stir a bit more and when it starts to dry out I’ll add another ladle of stock.
It’ll take about 30-40 minutes for the risotto to reach the right consistency by doing this. Trust me, it’s not hard. Pour a glass of wine and relax. Stir, ladle, drink.
You can fold almost anything into risotto once it’s creamy and delicious. For this version I went with a spinach and artichoke mixture.
Back to the risotto! After it has bubbled and cooked for 25-30 minutes it should start getting nice and creamy. Mine isn’t quite done a this point, but it’s getting there.
The only way to really know that risotto is done is to taste it as you go. If it’s crunchy, you have a long way to go. Ideally, you’ll be done when the rice is tender, but still has a very tiny bite to it. Think of al dente spaghetti.
When it’s close to this point, stir in the chopped tomatoes!
Then add the fresh spinach and stir it into the risotto. The heat will wilt the spinach almost immediately leaving these beautiful green streaks through the risotto.
Finally, stir in the marinated artichokes. Try to keep them in nice, big pieces.
During this whole process, feel free to add more stock (or even hot water) if the risotto looks too thick or dry. Good risotto will always be slightly loose. It should slowly spread out if left alone.
When all your add-ins are stirred in and you’re happy with the consistency, season the risotto with salt and pepper and serve it immediately with a heavy dusting of Parmesan cheese.
There you have it!
Cost at home? Maybe $4/serving. Cost in a restaurant? $16?
Save your restaurant dollars for other things!