Life Lessons from Risotto
It's only been in the last few years that I've come to really appreciate risotto. Before, I didn't get it. Honestly, it seemed to me nothing more than uninteresting casserole. Then, my friend Eve clued me in to how I was messing it up. You see, I was making risotto without wine because it always seemed silly to purchase it for a single recipe. However, wine is essential to making risotto. Its acid keeps risotto from being bland and boring, like some middle-of-the-road casserole.
After my buddy helped me to solve the risotto riddle, I really started to enjoy the dish. In fact, it has become a bit of a celebration meal in my house. Whenever I harvest a perfect batch of wild food - whether it's mushrooms, asparagus, or milk weed pods, I like to honor it by making risotto.
I know what you're thinking. Oh, but it takes to long to make risotto. You've gotta stand there and stir it forever!
Risotto takes time to make, but it also works its own magic, removes us from the cult of busyness and forces us to step back into our own skin. It says, forget about the trouble at work, leave the headache of bills and traffic jams behind for now. Be here, right here in this kitchen, with your toes pushing onto the floor and the refrigerator humming in the background. Etch zig zags in the cooking rice. Close your eyes and note the whispers of garlic and butter steaming up from the pan. Feel the breeze fluttering through the curtain and how it carries the giggles of birds into the kitchen. Calibrate your attention to this place in time.
This risotto recipe is pretty flexible. Use whatever ingredients are fresh and delicious. These days, I almost always make risotto with mushroom broth, because I love its clean flavor. The other day, I came home with the first wild onions of the season, and made onion-y mushroom risotto by cooking the bulbs with the rice, and finishing with fresh chopped wild onion greens. If you are using tender vegetables that need only a bit of cooking, add them in the last five minutes.
Please note that I always use a $4 bottle wine and my risotto tastes better than some fancy foo-foo risottos made by chefs that I've tried. If you can afford better wine, by all means, go for it! But don't let the fact that you can't afford the good stuff keep you from making risotto.
Butter's Awesome Less-Than-Scientific Risotto Recipe
2 handfuls of dried porcini mushrooms
6ish cups of boiling water
a few pats of butter
chopped onions and/or garlic
1 c. Carnaroli rice
1/2 tsp. salt
cheap bottle of white wine
about 3/4 c. shredded hard cheese
another big pat of butter
chopped fresh herbs
1. Place the porcini mushrooms in a medium bowl, and cover them with boiling water. Leave them to infuse a nice strong broth for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat a heavy bottom skillet (I always use my 10" cast iron for this) over medium heat. Once the skillet is fully warmed, add the butter and let it melt.
3. As soon as the butter has melted, add your onions and or garlic, and cook them just until they are translucent, stirring constantly.
4. Add the rice and salt, and stir until the rice is coated with butter.
5. Fish the mushroom pieces out of their soaking water and throw them into the pan. Let them cook for another minute or two along with the rice, stirring frequently.
6. Pour enough wine into the skillet so that it covers the bottom. Keep stirring until the pan is not quite dry again.
7. Here is where you begin the process of adding the mushroom broth one big ladle-full at a time, stirring the rice until it is nearly absorbed, and repeating. You will use most if not all of the broth. The goal is to have the rice fully cooked, but stop short of it turning to mush. You want it to retain its shape and character, and still have have little texture when you bite into it. The finished dish should also be creamy and a little runny on the plate, not sit up like a mountain.
8. When the rice has achieved the correct texture, add in the cheese and the last little pat of butter, and incorporate them well. Taste a bite, and add more salt if necessary.
9. Serve the risotto immediately with a sprinkling of freshly chopped herbs like parsley or chives.