Monday, June 2, 2008

Risotto tips

Yesterday I made an excellent asparagus risotto. Mighty fine eatin'. I was thus inspired, if not to share some with you (that's going too far), to bequeath my profound knowledge of risottology- the theory and practice of risotto-making.

First of all- how do you pronounce it? Ree-ZOE-toe. Please do not persist in pronouncing this word with an -aw sound. It is annoying.

Now. Various odds and ends.

A well-known Italian proverb tells us that la pratica vale piu' della grammatica. Practice is worth more than grammar- that is, real-world experience is more important than book learnin'. This is particularly relevant to the science of risottology. Practice, practice, practice. You will not become a proficient risotto-maker by reading recipes. Or even by reading this post.

You must have particular rice for our star dish, but not only Arborio. See my previous post here on this weighty matter.

The basis of the risotto is the soffritto. I prefer a soffritto of onions in butter and olive oil. Risotto would be a great dish to make in the microwave, saving you all sorts of time stirring (because the microwave cooks evenly, unlike a flame). Alas- the soffritto suffers in the microwave, and comes out tasting funny.

All sorts of things can be the basis of your risotto, but Italians classically prefer one main ingredient. Which should be fresh, or at least frozen. The Veneto tradition goes in for seafood or vegetables. Avoid the bok choy, melon and prosciutto risotto. Or the apple, Canadian bacon and jalapeno pepper risotto.

You do not need to continuously stir your risotto. Do you remember the difference between "continuous" and "continual"? You need to continually stir your risotto. Make sure before a break in stirring that the liquid/solid ratio is evenly-distributed and the surface is flat.

Real freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano is a common addition to our dish. However, do not add this with seafood. Do add fresh minced flat-leaf parsley.

I have seen a number of recipes (even Italian) stating that you can use water as the liquid base. I have found that this does not work. Use vegetable or chicken broth. Adding wine is often a good idea.

Risotto, like pasta, should be al dente. Keep adding the hot liquid for about fifteen minutes. Taste. Based on the degree of doneness, continue to add small quantities of liquid. You will finish by stirring with heat off.

Good ingredients for risotto. Asparagus, artichokes (I use frozen here), strawberries, radicchio, shrimp, scallops, mixed seafood, zucchini, fiddleheads, mushrooms (porcini, if you got 'em), cheese, apple, pear (haven't tried, but sounds promising), pumpkin or butternut squash, spinach, lobster, crab. Not all at the same time.