The Warm Hug of Risotto

We started making risotto when Mark and Ben lived in the apartment. We watched Worst Cooks in America, and I blogged about our successes in recipes on a free site hosted by Weebly. I hadn’t found my food writer voice back then. It was so early in our adventures that I don’t even remember why I wanted to make risotto for the first time at all. I do know that we tried out a couple different recipes, and the instant favorite was in my new cookbook, Cook Like a Rock Star, by Anne Burrell.

She gifted us, and anyone else who owns this cookbook, a formula to make risotto. Not a recipe that we had to adapt for our needs. A formula that we could follow, adding our own favorite vegetables, and never missing the fussy shellfish that Mark was allergic to (and which honestly would have been too expensive anyway). And so, we created our own true comfort food, out of a recipe with a huge succession of steps, which takes well over an hour for one person to make themselves. It was a team effort back then, and now that we’re all that much older, it’s a dish that I can make alone. It tastes like comfort. It tastes like practiced skill. It tastes like attention to detail. I can cook this dish and really know that my hard work pays off in deliciousness. In a year where I’ve been bombarded with the idea that I should be worthless, because illness must make people pathetic and not worth loving, cooking a risotto that turns out perfectly is a personal victory. It proves to me that I can do something right.

The expression you might be familiar with is about chicken soup for the soul, but I believe in chicken soup for the Jewish holidays, and that’s about it for me for soup. Risotto is about me loving food, and me loving my own cooking, and then me loving me. So if you would like to master a complicated dish that has the power to remind you that you’re worth it, then let’s get started.

You will need…

olive oil for the pot

bit of butter for the pot, plus a second bit for the end of the cooking process

1 large yellow onion

2 pieces of garlic, smashed

salt, to taste

most of a standard size package of cremini (aka baby bella) mushrooms

approx half a bunch of asparagus

6 to 7 cups of chicken stock, preferably Trader Joe’s house brand

2 cups of arborio rice

2 cups white wine, such as pino grigio or sauvignon blanc

a minimum of 1 cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese, more if desired

Mise en Place:

Cut the onion into medium-size dices. Put in a bowl.

Wash and dry the mushrooms, then slice off the bottom of the stems. Then slice the mushrooms about medium-thick. Put in a bowl.

Rinse off the asparagus. Snap the ends, then slice the edible parts all in half.

Start by measuring the chicken stock into a saucepan, cover, and bring to boil. I usually add the full 7 cups, then keep in mind there will likely be extra after the risotto has already absorbed enough chicken stock later on. After it boils, you can reduce to lowest simmer or even turn off the heat under it.

In a significantly large pot, add a few swirls of olive oil to cover, plus the pat of butter, over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the garlic and onion pieces. Season with salt. Keep an eye on the onion to make sure it isn’t browning too quickly. If it is, you can turn the heat down to slow its cooking. The result you want to achieve is pieces of onion which are starting to become translucent and may be a generous golden brown around the edges. This will take somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 or 8 minutes.

Next you need to toast the rice. Add all of the rice to your onions and stir to combine them. Create a fairly even layer of the ingredients on the bottom of the pot. Let the rice toast for about 2 minutes, until it actively and noticeably smells like rice.

Pour enough of the wine over to just cover the rice, then stir thoroughly. Let cook for a couple minutes until the wine starts to cook off and become absorbed by the rice. Stir intermittently during this stage.

Next, ladle chicken stock to generously cover the surface of the rice. Stir on and off until all the chicken stock is absorbed.

Add the last of the wine and ladle in the chicken stock for the second of three additions of liquid in this recipe. I usually add the mushrooms now, stirring them in to begin to incorporate with the rice, and then add an additional small amount of chicken stock so they are covered as well.

At some point you will also want to steam the asparagus separately until al dente, then set aside to cool down a little.

Continue to stir the mixture on and off. Before the third addition of the stock, it’s a good idea to taste the rice and a bit of the liquid on a spoon. This way, you can judge whether it is salty enough already, as well as how cooked the texture of the rice is. You can choose to add salt, as well as making a more informed guess as to how much stock to add this final time to cook the rice through to al dente, without overcooking it to mushiness.

When the asparagus is cool enough to touch comfortably, cut the halves in half again, so the pieces you will be adding in are now quarters and approximate bite-sized.

Once the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, taste it again. When you are happy with the doneness, turn off the heat. Immediately add in the asparagus, then stir quickly. Lastly, set the texture of the risotto by adding a final pat of butter and all of the parmesan cheese, and VERY vigorously stir until the butter and cheese has melted and transformed the overall texture of the risotto into a more creamy and homogeneous mixture.

Serve right away. Content feelings will auto-magically begin!


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