Timer saver: risotto does not come in a box.
When I first offered to to make my wife risotto (back in the days before she was my wife) she seemed a bit hesitant to accept. I told her it was delicious and she’d like it (I say that about all the food I like, I have a bit of a limited vocabulary in that regard) and she eventually gave in. It was and she did. Up till then though, she’d never had an Italian style risotto, and had only experienced the boxed kind. If you’re in the same boat, you need to ditch the boxes and bring on awesomeness.
Get this right and it’s so tasty you almost can’t stop eating it. I often find myself going to put the leftovers away and then just eating them before I can (we’re talking a whole extra bowl here, and I wasn’t skimping on my serving the first time around).
When I made this for my friend Marty he was shocked by the lack of vegetables, I tried to tell him it’s just the style, but if you feel the same way you do have options. I’ll often chop up a red capsicum and throw that in towards the end, or sometimes even some corn (½ c – 1 c). Marty was keen on baby spinach and that works too (in a green sort of way). Or you could keep it pure and just serve a salad on the side.
The first time you make this it probably pays to have everything ready to go before you start cooking. After you’ve done it a couple of times you can leave a bit more of the prep to do as you go. Stirring should all be done with a wooden spoon to help release the starch from the rice.
- 1½ c arborio rice
- 1 litre of good quality chicken stock (homemade is ideal, but most liquid stocks from the supermarket are fine)
- 1¼ c white wine (major part of the flavour here, so skip that $6 bottle and splash out on something a little better – say, an $8 bottle…)
- 2 chicken breasts – for around 400-500g chicken, chopped into small cubes/pieces
- 1 medium-large onion, or 2 small ones, peeled and diced finely
- 2-3 sticks of celery, washed, sliced into crescents (1-2mm wide)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped finely
- 3 Tbsp olive oil or a knob of butter (or a mix if you prefer)
- zest and juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small-medium ones
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
- 200g mushrooms (if buttons, chop into quarters/halves, if large flats cut into half slices) + 1-2 Tbsp additional olive oil
- 1-1½ c grated cheddar cheese, or ½ c grated parmesan for the purists (plus more to taste)
- (optional) parsley to garnish (sprigs or chopped)
- Put stock in a small saucepan and heat to just below boiling – maintain at this temperature throughout.
- Heat olive oil/butter in a stockpot (or very large saucepan) over medium-high heat.
- Add onion, celery and garlic, and soften – probably around 3-5 minutes.
- Add arborio rice, stir thoroughly to ensure rice is evenly coated with oil. Stir for around a minute, the rice should make a slight popping sound, go opaque, and start absorbing any moisture in the pan. The clock starts now – you want to cook the arborio for about 20 minutes for optimal texture. (Too much longer than that and it will be mushy. Too much less and it will be too firm. You want “bite” – a kind of yielding firmness to each grain.)
- Add 1 cup of white wine, stir well till absorbed.
- Add all of the lemon zest, and ¾ of the lemon juice, and stir. (There’s a lot of stirring involved in this one I’m afraid.) Reduce heat to medium.
- Start adding the hot chicken stock, a ladle or two at a time. Stir in between each addition, keeping the rice moving and preventing it from catching and burning on the bottom. Add the thyme, and cracked black pepper.
- About ten minutes after first adding the arborio to the pot, add the chicken. This will poach it (leaving it tender) – but to make sure it’s well-cooked you want to add it ten minutes before the end.
- Continue adding the chicken stock and stirring.
- Eventually you’ll run out of stock, this should happen around the 17-20 minute mark. Add the final ¼ cup of wine, and the remaining lemon juice. Start testing the rice periodically, it should be firm but not hard. Continue stirring.
- When the rice is ready, remove the pot from the heat, and stir the cheese through. Put a lid on the pot and leave it to rest for around 5 minutes.
- While the risotto is resting, quickly fry the mushrooms in a little extra olive oil. I often just use the pot I had the stock in to do this (saves messing up another one). When cooked, stir them through the risotto then serve. Garnish with parsley if desired.