Ever since I was a little kid I loved cooking. My first memory with my mother in the kitchen is hearing the old food processor she had to shred dry mozzarella and running to go and get the last little piece of cheese that the machine couldn't break down.
I spent a good part of my childhood in the kitchen, and now Alberto and I spend a good part of each day developing our game. Cooking is an organic, natural, and deep pleasure and now that I've gotten back into it I can't quit. The food also tastes so much better, on so many levels, that eating out of a jar again as I did in my first few years of independence is impossible.
At noon today I made my risotto for one of Alberto's friends who came over, and it never fails to impress (others; we've gotten over it). It's not complicated or expensive, either; the trick is in paying attention to it and the properly seasoning it at the end. The recipe is after the jump. If you're a risotto fan, feel free to share variations in the comments since I do want to expand out of my mushroom repertoire.
What you'll need
Dry rice, about one cup: Don't use long-grain or Basmati or jasmine or just any rice. They sell special rice for risotto called "arborio," and the grocery store I go to labels it "riz pour le risotto (risotto rice)." Sushi rice actually works too, but anything longer will dry out and won't absorb flavor.
Shallots or onions, about half a cup, diced: Whichever you prefer. I like shallots with risotto best, but onions are fine as well. Garlic? I've heard of people using that as a foundation flavor in risotto. Of all the crazy things I've done with this recipe over the last year, though, putting garlic in it is something I haven't built up the courage to do.
White stock, about one quart: Chicken or veal, if you're so inclined. I use veggie stock, of course. Canned or carton is better than cube. The flavor, though, won't matter much unless you make your own stocks at home, in which case, be prepared for chicken (or whatever) risotto instead of mushroom risotto. So veggie stock is what I use and know.
A good glass of good white wine: I live in Paris, so I have plenty of low-priced choices. Muscadet is the best, in my opinion, as it's the traditional wine of the beurre-blanc sauce for a reason. Otherwise, pick a wine that's not sweet and that's good enough to drink on its own. You will notice the flavor at the end, so don't think, "Oh, I have half a bottle of Cook's left from last night's party...." That's just asking for bad flavor.
Mushrooms, as many as you want. I like a lot. Button mushrooms work great and they're pretty cheap. Chanterelles were cheap this week so I used them at noon. Just make sure they're fresh, not canned or jarred, so they taste like something other than brine.
Fresh parsley, chopped. It's still summer so there's no excuse for using dried, bottled herbs. Parsley has a lot of flavor when it's fresh, not much when it isn't. And herbs aren't that expensive.
Parmesan cheese, about a quarter cup. Canned is fine, freshly grated is better. But canned is OK here. Not like with mushrooms. I don't know who thought canned mushrooms were a good idea.
Salt, pepper, olive oil, as needed.
Everything there is approximate, and I don't measure anything out. This is one of those recipes that your palate will guide you through more than measuring equipment can.
What to do
Dice the onions or shallots properly. As in, not in long strips or odd shapes or big chunks - those won't mix well with the rice and will change the texture of the final product. Here's a video that explains how to do it:
Chop the mushrooms. Alberto peels them, which I didn't even know was possible. They don't have to be finely chopped, but smaller than bite-sized, smaller than quartering. And remember that they'll shrink when cooked, unlike canned mushrooms.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Risotto is about constant heat, and since you're going to be dousing the rice with stock throughout this process, it should already be hot to keep the whole thing at a constant temperature. This keeps the rice cooking properly.
Heat a pan on high heat with some oil in it, and sauté the onions/shallots. They smell nice, don't they? They should bottle that scent.
Throw in the mushrooms once the onions/shallots are tender.
Throw in the rice and get it a little tan. Maybe you'll have to add a little more oil here, but don't go crazy. This shouldn't be greasy in the end.
Once the rice has a little color, add the wine. This is where you're getting into the risotto part that you've heard of: a little liquid, a lot of stirring. Stir it so that it cooks evenly and doesn't stick to the pan, until the wine has been absorbed or has evaporated (it's doing both). Keep heat high. Risotto is not tomato sauce; it does not want to be slowly cooked over several hours. Risotto demands heat and attention.
Add a bit of stock, and stir. Every time the stock seems absorbed, add some more and stir. You don't have to hang out over the pan and stir constantly; feel free to text message your neighbors to come help you eat the risotto right about now. But make sure it doesn't stick and that it doesn't form a skin on top (sacrilège!).
Taste every now and then to see if the rice is done. My roommate in college once asked me how to tell if pasta is done cooking, since he liked throwing it on the wall but then realized that that test depends heavily on the type of wall you have. The best way to tell if a starch is done? Taste it and imagine having to eat a whole plate of that. Do you want to eat a whole plate of that, or would it hurt your teeth? This method also prevents your roommate from getting mad about rice on the walls.
When the rice is done, stop adding stock, turn off the heat, and add parmesan. But don't stop stirring! Then the parmesan will just be on top!
Chop and add the parsley. You could have done this earlier, too, but I like adding herbs right at the end if they're fresh as it maintains their texture. If you're not a fan, the parsley could have gone in when the rice was half-cooked.
Now here's the tricky part OMG you're so close don't fuck this up now.
Season with salt and pepper and add additional parmesan, if necessary. This makes or breaks the whole dish. Really. A poorly seasoned risotto isn't worth the rice it was made out of. Add some salt and pepper, taste, and fix it. If you're going to add more parmesan now because you want it cheesier or it doesn't have enough umami, do that before it's salty enough because parmesan jam-packed with salt. Taste and fix, but there's no way to take salt and pepper out, so go slowly