I’m so excited that the last post of 2010 is courtesy my dear, dear friend Courtney Rath.  Courtney & her husband John make killer risotto; Jill and I had the pleasure of enjoying it for the first time last year on New Year’s Eve, and I’ve been bothering her to guest-blog about it ever since.

If you, as we do, prefer to skip the maddening crowds and stay home on the last night of the year, consider adding this risotto to your dinner plan.  It’s the perfect night to make some fuss over dinner; plus, you have to stay up until midnight, anyway, so you don’t have to worry about being in a rush!  Wishing everyone a safe & happy celebration—see you in 2011!—Nishta

Risotto is one of those dishes with a bad reputation.  I’ve been known to have one too—students who haven’t had me as a teacher think I’m scary, colleagues think I’m intimidating—so I can sympathize.  I’m a total pushover, really, and so is risotto.  It requires two things: the best rice you are willing to spring for, and a menu that doesn’t require precise timing.

In our efforts to perfect risotto dishes, we ended up with many pots of sticky but still not-quite-done versions.  The culprit: arborio.  It’s the cheapest and most readily available option, but it produces dense, too chewy results.  A recipe book we found, from which the following version is adapted, recommended carnaroli, which consistently becomes creamy and yet is difficult to overcook.  It’s expensive, but totally worth it.

Our other realization was that risotto has its own notions of time.  Don’t time the rest of a meal around a risotto; choose a main dish that can rest as long as you need and will be very tasty at room temperature, or that can continue to roast or braise or whatever until your risotto is ready.  And you need to be able to give the risotto your full attention while you’re working on it—all the ingredients chopped and ready, nothing else to do for a bit except stir, add more liquid, stir, add more liquid.

Sounds like trouble, right?  But it’s the good kind of trouble, I promise.


adapted from Risotto: 30 Simply Delicious Vegetarian Recipes from an Italian Kitchen, by Ursula Ferrigno

5-6 c. vegetable stock*
¼ c. unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
8 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced or crushed
1 ½ c. carnaroli rice
½ c. dry white wine
2 c. butternut squash, cubed into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ c. freshly grated Parmesan
handful of coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Heat the stock in a saucepan until it is almost boiling, then reduce the heat to low to keep it simmering.  Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  It’s easiest to work on adjacent burners so that the transfer of liquids doesn’t become too messy.

Add the shallots and cook until they are softened but not brown, 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.  Then add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated in oil.

Now for the fun part.  The general process is to add liquid a little at a time and stir until it is just absorbed, then add more liquid and stir, and so on until the rice is cooked to your preferred tenderness.  Start with the wine.  When it is completely absorbed, add a ladleful of stock, the squash, and the parsley; stir until the liquid is absorbed.

You don’t want your pan so hot that the liquid boils off; rather you want to simmer everything so that the liquid can be absorbed by the rice.  And you don’t want your pan to get so dry that things begin to stick, so don’t wait until there’s no liquid left to add the next ladleful.

But most of all, don’t worry!  Risotto forgives everything except burning, so err on the side of too much liquid and you’ll be fine (it will all get absorbed in the end, I swear).

Repeat this process until the rice and squash are done to your liking, reserving at least one more ladle of stock for the finishing touch.  Turn off the heat and add the cheese, salt and pepper, and the remaining stock.  Mix well and cover; let it rest for 2 or 3 minutes, then serve immediately.

* Most recipes call for 4 cups of stock to 1 ½ cups of rice, but I always ran out before my risotto was al dente and ended up using water to finish the risotto.  So now I just heat more than I think I will need—better to have too much than too little (in risotto as in many things)—and I usually end up using all of it.