By Barbara Beltrami
When I first met my husband who is Italian and whose parents emigrated from northern Italy, I had never heard of risotto. I grew up in a town with a lot of Italian families, but they were mostly from the southern part of Italy where risotto is uncommon and pasta is king. In the north, risotto may well be the go-to comfort food. Made from either arborio or carnaroli, short-grained varieties of rice that are available in most specialty supermarkets or Italian grocery stores, a good risotto is creamy and porridge-like, and oh, so buono.
There are probably as many risotti as there are pasta shapes and sauces; the basic ingredients marry well with nearly all veggies and even some fruits, cheeses, meat, fowl or fish, although the latter are much more rare. Using the Basic Risotto recipe and cooking tips below, you can create a risotto with pretty much anything you want.
Basic Risotto Recipe
YIELD: 4 to 6 servings
3 to 4 cups broth
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One medium onion, finely chopped
One celery rib, washed, trimmed and finely chopped
1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
DIRECTIONS: (1) In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil; reduce heat and keep at a simmer. (2) Heat oil in heavy saucepan for 30 seconds to one minute over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about two minutes. (3) Add rice, stirring constantly, for one minute over low-medium heat. (4) Add wine and half a cup of the broth, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed. (5) Continue adding broth, half a cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition is absorbed before adding more broth. The risotto will be ready in 15 to 20 minutes when the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy. You may not need all the broth or you may need more liquid, in which case just add a little hot water, half a cup at a time.
Risotto with Spinach and Gorgonzola Cheese
One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
DIRECTIONS: Cook spinach according to package directions; cover and set aside with its cooking liquid. Make Basic Risotto recipe with the following changes: Add spinach and its liquid between steps 4 and 5 in basic recipe. Reduce heat to low and add cheese, stirring vigorously until cheese is melted. Serve with salad or baked winter squash.
Risotto with Clams
3 pounds littleneck clams
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
One recipe Basic Risotto (above)
1½ cups finely diced tomatoes (optional)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
DIRECTIONS: Scrub the clams well in a generous amount of cold water, then soak them in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain them and put them in a large pot with the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cover and steam open the clams, about 5 minutes. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Strain liquid through damp cheesecloth or coffee filter to catch any sand. Set clams aside. Measure liquid and substitute for equal amount of broth to be used in Basic Recipe (left). Make Basic Risotto; when risotto is about 3 minutes from being done, add the tomatoes, clams and parsley. Stir well and finish cooking. Do not add cheese. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.
Risotto with Zucchini
2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thin
One small onion, sliced very thin, rings separated
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
One recipe for Basic Risotto (above)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
DIRECTIONS: Heat the oil in a large skillet; add zucchini and onions. Saute until they start to turn golden, about 5 minutes; add the garlic and saute for another minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Remove and set aside. Season with salt and pepper. Make the risotto. About two minutes before it is ready, add the zucchini and onion and stir well for another two minutes. Pass the grated cheese at the table. Serve with a tomato and mozzarella salad.