{top tip} Risotto Tips from Italian Grannies

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Have you ever made risotto with an elderly Italian woman? Be warned: she might yell at you for doing it wrong. Here are some things you can do to get top marks with the signoras!

  • In the first part of the process, toast the rice well in the olive oil before adding any liquid. The rice should be a nice golden brown before proceeding to the liquid phase.
  • You don’t have to heat the broth before adding it in. I swear. Don’t believe the broth-heating hype, you’re just making more work for yourself!
  • While Arborio rice is the commonly recommended risotto rice, many chefs and grandmas prefer Carnaroli rice – try it if you can find it.
  • If you’re adding things to the risotto, like sauteed vegetables or bacon or shrimp, cook them separately and fold them in at the very end.
  • Also: I once read that Thomas Keller folds whipped heavy cream into his risotto at the end, to finish it. I have tried that and it’s not worth the effort – a splash of unwhipped cream or a knob of butter does the trick just as well.

It bears noting that I don’t use a recipe to make risotto, and I don’t think you need to either. It’s one of my favorite things to make when I need to make a good side dish and I don’t want to go to the market, because you can add most anything to it. The whole process takes about 20-30 minutes, and shouldn’t be made ahead because it will ruin the texture.

  • Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a saucepan over medium low heat.
  • Add some arborio or carnaroli rice, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, and a chopped shallot if you have it. (To serve 4 people, I add about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of rice.) Toast the rice and let the shallots and garlic get fragrant.
  • Throw some white wine in–it can be crappy wine. There are usually some dregs of Chardonnay in my fridge because people always bring Chardonnay over and I totally hate Chardonnay. If you don’t have any wine it’s OK, just move to the next step.
  • Pour about a cup of chicken broth, vegetable broth, mushroom broth, or water and a bouillon cube in. Stir it with a spatula or wooden spoon and let most of the liquid soak into the rice. You can add fresh herbs at this point too, if you like.
  • Repeat the broth step a couple more times, tasting the rice after the first 2 times to see if it’s cooked. Keep adding more broth until the rice is cooked and creamy. Don’t overcook it or it will be mushy. Each cup of rice takes in 1-2 cups of liquid. If you run out of broth, it’s OK to use water.
  • Remove from the heat and add something to make it creamier–a splash of heavy cream, a handful of parmesan cheese, and/or even a knob of cream cheese or butter. I usually do the parmesan plus one of the other things I just listed.
  • Then stir in some other stuff you’ve previously prepared. For me, that usually means that I’ve cooked some bacon pieces then sauteed something in the bacon grease, like small cubes of carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, or squash. Also good: steamed or roasted asparagus or broccoli. Chopped mushrooms sauteed until crispy in olive oil or butter. Small dice of fresh tomatoes when they’re in season. Some people like sauteed shrimp.
  • If it’s boring, you can try to: add lemon zest or lemon juice, add more salt, add more pepper, add more cheese, add more bacon, add truffle oil, or get your guests to drink another glass of wine before serving. People who are hungry and tipsy always think stuff tastes good.


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1 Response

  1. March 18, 2011

    […] I suppose I could and should have used these hot tips for Italian-granny approved risotto, but I didn’t. My only excuses are that I didn’t need to save time, and also that […]