Is that reputation of “it's too hard to make at home” fair though? Well, having now made my first ever pot of risotto, I can confidently say that you should take time to slow down and invest time into making that perfect pot of rice. And as much as I like hyperbole, I'm not hyperbolizing when I say it was probably one of the most satisfying and comforting dishes I’ve made in quite a while. That said, there are definitely some tips I want to share if you too are considering making it yourself one day.
Here are my top five tips for a perfect risotto.
Let’s dive in.
Tip #1 - Have all your toppings and mix-ins cooked and prepared ahead of time
Unfortunately, the rumors that risotto is a clingy, needy little bugger are mostly true. You will need to make sure to give it the relative constant stirring and attention it needs while cooking to ensure it cooks evenly, the rice releases the required starch to create the desired creamy texture, and so it does not burn. So, that means that for any mix-ins you are thinking of adding - mushrooms, peas, asparagus, whathaveyou - make sure they are cooked and just need to be warmed up when added to your rice. The same is true with your stock - have it at a near simmer on an adjacent burner ready to go. You don’t want to be caught in a situation when you are trying to monitor and cook a second pan of food while your rice is slowly gluing itself to the bottom of your pan and burning. Get the prep done before you start your rice and you will be a happy camper.
- Bonus Tip: When you do mix in your finishing ingredients, stir gently so you don’t break up your toppings or drastically change the color of your rice - think folding in egg whites or whipped cream into a mousse, not mixing brownie batter - like this
Tip #2 - Have more stock at the ready than you think you may need
This was a lesson I learned the hard way when I made risotto for the first time last week, and that is at the end of the day, the amount of stock you may need can vary. For me, I was cooking in a large skillet, and while the box of arborio rice recommended 4 cups of stock for 2 cups of rice (a 2:1 ratio), I found I needed nearly 5 cups of stock when I cooked only 1.5 cups of rice (a 10:3 ratio, or 3 ⅓ cups of stock per cup of rice) to reach the consistency I was looking for and for my rice to be perfectly cooked. Recipes I’ve browsed online seem to also be pretty varied, some going with a 3:1 ratio of stock to rice, some less, some more. Whatever recipe you follow, I would keep on reserve at least 1 extra cup of stock (or water will do in a pinch) at the ready. Which leads me to my next tip...
Tip #3 - Time is an illusion - go with your mouth, not the clock
Another LIE I was told was that arborio rice can be cooked to a perfect, creamy risotto in as little as 20 minutes. Well my friends, that is a bigger lie than when I was told chocolate milk came from brown cows as a kid. I ended up cooking my rice for about 40 minutes. Yes, this again can be a product of many factors like evaporation rates, humidity, or whether Mercury is in transit with Neptune, but the best way to check how close your risotto is to being ready is not with a clock, but using our mouth. Luckily, your rice will tell you when it’s getting close. As your rice cooks, you will notice that the outside of each grain will get darker and semi translucent compared to the stark white centers which remain dry and hard. When the rice loses that light spot, you can start testing small amount of rice to see how done the risotto is. Again, time can vary, so trust your gut and taste buds to tell you if the rice is at that perfect stage of fully cooked but not mushy.
Tip #4 - Go with the good stuff (if you are able)
At its core, Risotto is a study of simplicity - slowly cooked arborio rice, carefully and diligently mixed with hot stock until rich and unbelievably creamy, resulting in a dish that is way more than the sum of its parts. Whenever you make something where the flavours are simple and a primary ingredient is the star (in this case, rice), I recommend splurging a little if you can. Get that nice chicken stock, use the freshest mushrooms you can find, use that fancy butter made with milk from cows that listen to Beethoven for 5 hours a day - each little bit adds to a more luxurious experience. And anyways - if you will be standing in front of your stove for the better part of an hour, you want to be rewarded with the best dish possible, no?
Tip #5 - Have your phone (and a glass of wine) at the ready
This brings me to my final tip - how to make those 30-40 minutes of stirring fly by. I have a routine that I follow if I know I will be doing a fair amount of prep work or have lots of stand-and-stir time in front of the stove. I set up my phone or laptop, I put on my bluetooth headphones, and I have either a show or series of Youtube videos playing in the background. You know how watching a few hours of your favorite show seems to fly by, while that meeting or building that spreadsheet seems to take 15 years when it really has been only 15 minutes? Well, that's what standing and stirring a pot of risotto can feel like. So come prepared with some entertainment - not something so enthralling you forget to stir and add stock, but interesting enough to make time move just a little bit faster. Oh, and if you’re like me, also have a drink on standby as well. That always makes time fly by a little faster.
Try out these tips in an easy Butternut Squash and Mushroom Risotto today! The earthy, umami rich mushrooms add a nice depth while the roasted butternut squash lends a slight sweetness to each bite. It’s perfect with a nice salad with a bright vinaigrette and a cold glass of vinho verde served outside on a balcony or patio - or at the comfort of your indoor dining table. Both are perfect, but no matter where I’m eating, I’ll be imagining myself in Venice, watching the gondolas drift by.
Time: 1.5 hours
- 1.5 Cups Arborio Rice
- 5 cups Chicken Stock
- Half large yellow onion, diced fine
- 8 oz. Crimini mushrooms, quartered if large, halved if small
- 10-12oz bag of frozen cubed butternut squash
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 1/4 finely shredded parmesan cheese
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees - place your frozen butternut squash subes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, add a little oil to coat the squash, and season with salt. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and browned on the bottom. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside.
- In a large stainless steel or non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until shimmering.
- Add your mushrooms, and toss quickly to coat in oil. Let stand, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are browned and have shrunk, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the pan.
- Reduce heat to medium and add one tablespoon of butter to the same pan and melt. Add your onions and a large pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent. About 5 minutes
- Add in your rice and toss to coat everything with the oil/butter and onion mix. Stir constantly for about 3 minutes.
- Begin adding hot stock you are keeping warm on an adjacent burner over low heat one ladle at a time to your pan of rice. Stir rice and stock together until the stock is absorbed and you can pull your spoon or spatula thorugh the rice and the pan underneath stays dry afterwards.
- Repeat the process of adding in stock and stirring rice constantly until the liquid is absorbed until rice starts to become tender, plump, and mix becomes creamy - about 30-40 minutes if cooking over medium heat.
- Taste test often to check on the texture of the rice - once the rice is fully cooked and tender and the mixture is very creamy but not clumpy (dry) or loose (overly wet), gently fold in your mushrooms and butternut squash.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add parmesan at this stage if using as well.
- Serve right away with a salad and a nice glass of white wine.