It was raining on Monday, and when I say it was raining I mean it was a "should we tape the windows, was that Miss Gulch I just saw fly by" crazy storm. This was not typical weather for Massachusetts in January but as we all know, climate change is a myth perpetrated by the liberal media.
...but I digress.
I did not do my usual menu planning this week out of sheer laziness, so I didn't have a plan for dinner. It was early afternoon when the craving for risotto hit and I decided just to run with it.
Oh risotto, you time-consuming temptress. Your comforting, soft creaminess totally makes the 45 minutes I have to spend standing at the stove tending you worthwhile.
I have been known to order an entree' only for the fact that it came with risotto on the side. I have made risotto in my crock pot. I have tried it with the earthiness of mushrooms and chianti, I have tried it tinted gold by saffron threads served as a bed for garlicky seafood, I have tried it as a thick and hearty breakfast food with cinnamon and raisins. I have eaten it after it was rolled into a ball, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried, then nestled into a spoonful of whipped potatoes.
(I highly recommend that last one.)
Despite my devotion, I rarely make risotto at home. There used to be the reason of cost; Arborio rice (the highly starched grains you need to make the dish work) is much pricier than it's humble cousins, brown rice and white rice. Now it is mostly lack of time that keeps me away. Risotto takes about an hour from start to finish, and you have to tend the pot the entire time. When you've got kids tugging at your proverbial apron, this may not be a project you want to take on. But, if you've got the time then the result is totally worth it.
Why does it take so much time and attention? Here's the basic science behind it:
Arborio rice is high in a starch called Amylopectin, which detaches from the grain during the cooking process and forms the creamy sauce that makes the dish what it is. By adding the broth to the dish in small increments instead of all at once, and by stirring and agitating the rice near-constantly, you are helping the Amylopectin separate itself and fulfill it's destiny as a delicious bonding agent.
As I was researching for this post (after I made my risotto), I came across this episode of Good Eats in which Alton Brown drops the bomb that you don't have to stand there and stir the rice the whole time and you can get the same result. WHAT. Whether or not this is true, I have not had a chance to find out for myself; you can bet we're having risotto again this weekend. Just for the sake of experiment. Yeah.
So, okay, fine, Alton is one to be trusted and we may never obsessively stir our rice again. FINE. Here is my recipe, in case you want an excuse to stand in one place for an hour and watch highlight clips of Oprah's interview with Rosie O'Donnell. (I will neither deny nor confirm that is what I did with my time at the stove.)
Mushroom Risotto For Sad And Rainy Days
1 heaping cup of Arborio rice
2 T oilive oil
about 1 cup of finely chopped onion (1 small onion or so, does not need to be exact)
1-2 T chopped garlic (to taste)
12 oz pkg baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 -3/4 cup wine - I have used both white and red to equal success
chopped fresh herbs - you can pick your favorite or what you have on hand. I like to pick up the "poultry blend"; it's a mix of rosemary, thyme and sage - you want about 1/2 cup, chopped.
5-6 cups of your choice of broth, brought to a boil then kept at a simmer within reach
1/4 c parmesan cheese
It is best to make this in a wide-bottomed pot, like a soup pot.
Saute' the onions, garlic, and mushroom in the olive oil over medium high heat. After the mushrooms have released all of their liquid, add the rice. Stir for a minute or two until you notice that everything is starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, then deglaze with the wine, making sure to scrape up all the nicely caramelized bits off the bottom. Reduce heat to medium/medium low.
Add a ladle of hot stock. Stir. When you notice that the liquid has been absorbed and the rice might start to stick - repeat. Keep doing that.
Basically you're adding a little bit of stock, then watching it absorb into the rice, then adding a little more, then waching that absorb. As you stir (it doesn't have to be a constant stir, just every minute or so give it a quick toss), the starch will separate and the "sauce" will form and thicken around the rice kernels.
You want to keep adding and stirring, adding and stirring, until the rice is cooked through but is still al dente. Not crunchy, just a little firm in the middle.
Reduce the heat again to low. Add the herbs, butter, and cheese. Stir for a minute to melt the butter and incorporate the flavors. Serve immediately.
If you have leftovers, you can make the aforementioned risotto balls. Mmmmmm.