Now, let's chat about risotto. It has a fancy-sounding name. It's often referred to as a rustic dish by fancy food people (Rustic = You must be very fancy to achieve this dish, originally prepared by peasants far more sophisticated than you.) With all this fanciness going around, we must assume the dish is fancy. Thing is, it's delicious, even better than the the San Francisco Treat you adored as a child. And thanks to its fanciness, you can serve it at a dinner party, a fancy dinner party. And I know, because I am Miss Super Fancy Pants.
Do not fear risotto, intimidating as it may be. I learned to make it from The New Basics Cookbook*. Anyhow, The New Basics taught me two essential rules:
1. You need about four times as much liquid as dry rice.
2. All in all, the rice should cook a total of 25 to 30 minutes.
If you follow those, you're golden, just like your risotto. Use a recipe the first time or two, then improvise away, like I did yesterday. I was forced to make Sunday lunch for my family, because my parents went to early church**. As I was home in my pajamas, a trip to the grocery store wasn't appropriate, so I opened the fridge. I found Arborio rice***, a single serving container of cream cheese from Panera, a leek, some turkey stock I had frozen, the last of some marinara sauce from Moe's Italian Grapevine, pine nuts, white wine and the end of a container of shredded Parmesan.
Heat about two tablespoons olive oil in a big pot. Add one leek, sliced into half-inch pieces. Sauté the leek until it's soft, about three minutes.
Add about a cup Arborio rice to the pot and set your kitchen timer for 25 minutes. Stir the rice until it's coated with oil.
When the timer is at 22 minutes, add about a half-cup stock, which should be simmering on another burner. Keep stirring. Remember Risotto Rule #1: You need about four times as much liquid as dry rice. In this case, I had a little less than four cups simmering, so I added a half-cup white wine.
When the stock is absorbed (i.e. When you scrape the spoon across the bottom of the pot, you should be able to see the bottom for a few seconds before the risotto settles), add another half-cup. By the way, use a wooden spoon, which is gentler on your rice than metal, and a pot without non-stick coating. Non-stick coating does yucky stuff to rice and food in general. You don't need a non-stick pot, you need to use more oil and keep a better eye on your heat.
Keep adding stock, a half-cup at a time until almost all of it has been added. When almost all the liquid has been absorbed, add about a half-cup marinara sauce, a single serving container of cream cheese from Panera or wherever and maybe a little pepper. Keep adding the rest of the stock until it's all gone.
Have you been keeping an eye on the kitchen timer? You did set it for 25 minutes when I told you to, right? Well it should be almost at zero now. You may, if necessary, add five minutes more.
At the last minute, stir in a handful of pine nuts and about a half-cup shredded Parmesan. You may, of course, add salt and pepper if you like. Now eat it. Don't wait, because risotto should be served hot, hot, hot!
* Which you should get. I used mine so much, it fell apart. My friend Gabrielle kindly offered me an extra one she had. I'm breaking it in, because all my favorite pages in the old one had food on them. I can't find anything in the new one without using the index.
** We go to the 9 am service. Not true. I force TF to go with our kids while I stay home and
*** This site provides an excellent, brief and very funny explanation of Arborio rice.