Risotto Made Easy

I must admit DH and I are kind of creatures of habit.  Coming up on about 15 years together, and 10 years of marriage, you can imagine that we have kind of a nice routine going on.  One of those routines involves cooking (and eating) together. 

We try to plan out our meals, and inevitably we have a roast chicken on the menu each week.  In the winter it’s a warming meal, sometimes made with stuffing, always perfect on a Sunday.  In the summer the roast usually transforms into a whole bird flattened (aka spatchcocked) and grilled.  And regardless of the season, we always use the leftover carcass to make a fresh stock to serve as a base for mid-week meals.

One of our favourite uses of stock is risotto.  I was always a bit hesitant about risotto.  It always seemed, well, complicated.  I am not big into complicated food.  I guess my hesitancy was also fuelled by an extremely complicated Georgio Locatelli risotto recipe I made a few summers ago.  Locatelli is one of my favourite cooks and his book is simply beautiful, but boy oh boy, that risotto involved asparagus used three ways including a puree and I think that cemented in my head that all risotto was complicated.

But this winter I decided to deconstruct risotto.  To make it again.  And to make it uncomplicated.  I learned that risotto is probably one of the simplest things to make.  Sure, it takes time.  Risotto is not a dish that makes itself – it requires the cook to be present, stirring and paying attention and using a little elbow grease.  But it is not hard to make.  And risotto offers a great opportunity to cook with someone – kind of like a team meal.  And to use whatever is available in your refrigerator.

This is how we make risotto.  I have tried to capture it step by step in photos. 

We start with making a chicken stock, which I have also photographed.  I realised last year that not everyone cooks whole chickens – two of my friends told me that they had never made a roast chicken when I served it for them.  Roast chicken is easy to make and so is stock.  Basically I just take the leftover chicken, strip off all the meat, cut up some celery, onions and carrots, melt some butter, and brown the vegetables and carcass in a pot for about 5 minutes, then add water to cover the chicken, and then leave to boil.  Super easy.   

Vegetables ready; Chicken in Pot; Veg and Chicken (brown 5 minutes in butter); Cover with water and simmer until ready to use

There are a few things that I have in my cupboard / fridge as standard cooking ingredients.  I always have a pack of dried mushrooms, which I use in many risottos as a delicious base.  And I also always have shallots in my fridge, which I soften in butter with the risotto rice.

To use the dried mushrooms, I take two handfuls, put into a bowl, and then cover with boiling water and leave for about 20 minutes to rehydrate.  I drain the water into the risotto pan (the mushroom liquor is so good and not to be wasted!) and then chop and add the mushrooms. 

Bag of mushrooms; Two handfuls ready to rehydrate; Covered in boiling water; 15 minutes later, ready to use!

And finally, we use whatever is in the fridge for the risotto ingredients.  This winter I have used leftover roast chicken, green beans, and dried mushrooms to make a yummy roast chicken risotto.  In these photos we just used the dried mushrooms and red peppers – if I had sausage meat I would have added it to this risotto as it would be perfect.  In the summer I have used asparagus (including a super complicated Georgio Locatelli recipe), also broad beans, peas and mint make a lovely combo.  In short, you can use anything in a risotto.

To make the risotto you start with coating the rice in melted butter and softening the shallots (see above).  Then I add a glug of white wine and evaporate all of the wine out of the pan.  Then I add the mushroom liquor (see above) and evaporate this too.  Finally I ladle in stock, ladle by ladle, letting the liquid completely cook off and stirring continuously between ladles.  I add stock until the rice is softened to taste, and at about 10 minutes before I estimate the cooking will be done I add the other ingredients.   

Butter, risotto rice and shallots – coat all with butter, and sautee for about 3 minutes
Add wine, cook off the wine, add mushroom liquor, cook off the liquor, add mushrooms…   
Ladle in the stock, simmer, stir, cook off the stock, repeat…
Repeat until you get the consistency of the rice you want – almost – as you need to leave about 10 minutes cooking time before it’s done…

Add the ingredients (like peppers) that you want in that final 10 minutes… To finish the risotto at the end I add a knob of butter (about a tablespoon or two) and beat in vigorously (it makes a really gross glooping sucking sound) and then I beat in a large handful of parmesan (making the same sound). 

Finishing time! Add ingredients; Beat in butter; Beat in parmesan

I dish out and then top with parsely or mint or a fresh herb (this is optional).

This is a meal that is all about time, tasting (to get the texture right), and is a lot of fun with two people (taking turns ladling and stirring, chatting over the stove, sharing the chopping jobs). 

Total cooking time is about 35 to 40 minutes I estimate.  This includes the stock time / mushroom rehydration time.

Of course, you don’t need to cook it with wine, and also if you are a vegetarian a vegetable stock works just as well as chicken.  If you use a ready made stock, I would suggest diluting it with an equal part of water as the stock flavour will be too strong I think for the risotto.

We enjoy our risotto with a glass of the same white wine we use in the cooking – never cooking with something we wouldn’t drink. 


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