It’s hard not to love risotto with its rich flavor and creamy texture. Risotto is a classic Italian dish and the ultimate comfort food. It’s a staple on Italian restaurant menus but home cooks are often intimidated to make it. With the right technique and a few tips, you’ll be able to make the perfect restaurant-quality risotto at home and impress your guests at your next dinner party.
Risotto is classically made with Italian short grain rice. Arborio rice is the most common variety and can usually be found in regular grocery stores. Other types include Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, which can be found in specialty stores. A perfectly cooked risotto should have a creamy, almost porridge-like consistency yet each grain of rice should retain a distinct bite. In order to achieve this texture, the rice is first lightly toasted in a pan and then the cooking liquid is added in stages while the rice is stirred almost constantly. This process slowly releases the starch in the rice and produces the desired creamy consistency.
Once you have the technique down you can adapt the same method for other types of grains. If you’re trying to incorporate more whole grains in your diet, you can use barley, faro, brown rice or wheat berries. You can also use small pasta shapes like orzo.Check out @foodiephysician's tips for making this restaurant-quality Lemon Risotto w/ Spring Vegetables at home! Click To Tweet
Here are a few tips for making the perfect risotto:
– Blanch your vegetables by briefly submerging them in boiling water and then shocking them in cold water to preserve their color and texture.
– Heat your stock. Keep the cooking liquid warm in a saucepan to help quicken the cooking process. If using store-bought stock, you can add vegetable trimmings and herbs to infuse it with more flavor.
– Use a wide, heavy-gauge sauté pan or saucepan for even heat distribution (I used my Le Creuset braiser)
– Sauté your aromatics (like leeks, onion, shallots, garlic) in a little olive oil or butter to develop flavor
– Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with the fat. Lightly toast the rice for 1-2 minutes before you start adding the liquid. This helps the rice retain the proper texture as it cooks and prevents it from becoming mushy.
– Add wine and let it reduce. Wine will add flavor to the dish but you must let it reduce to avoid any raw wine flavor.
– Add the broth in stages, a few ladles at a time, stirring constantly as you go. Each time the liquid is almost fully absorbed, add more. The best results supposedly come from using a wooden spoon as it’s less likely than a metal spoon to break the grains of rice.
– Stir in the vegetables, herbs and parmesan cheese at the end. Classically, a little butter is also added at the end for richness but I wanted to cut down on some calories and saturated fat so I left it out. The finished dish will still have a rich flavor and texture.
– Serve the risotto immediately while it’s still warm and creamy. The longer it sits, the more it will stiffen.
Now that you’ve got the technique down, why not try my Lemon Risotto with Spring Vegetables? This dish highlights lovely, vibrant spring vegetables- leeks, asparagus and peas. Fresh lemon adds a nice acidity and brightness to the dish that cuts through the richness of the risotto. It’s delicious alone or served with sautéed shrimp or scallops. I made the dish with traditional Arborio rice but if you want to use some whole grains, try making it with barley or faro and adjust for a longer cooking time.
Lemon Risotto with Spring Vegetables
- 12 ounces asparagus
- 1 cup fresh or frozen spring peas
- 1 quart low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium leek, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley
- 1.25 ounces grated parmesan cheese (about 1/3 cup)
- Trim the ends from the asparagus. Cut the remaining stalks into 1-inch pieces. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook until crisp tender, 3-4 minutes. If using fresh peas, add the peas along with the asparagus. If using frozen peas, add them during the last minute. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl of ice water. Drain the vegetables and set aside.
- Heat the stock along with 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Add the trimmings from the asparagus and leek and the parsley stems to add flavor to the stock. Bring to a simmer and then keep warm on low heat while you make the risotto.
- Heat the oil in a large, wide sauté pan. Add the leeks and garlic and season them with salt and pepper. Cook until leeks are partially softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat all of the grains with the oil. Cook 1-2 minutes to lightly toast the rice and then add the wine. Cook a few minutes until the wine is reduced, stirring occasionally.
- Add the warm stock, a few ladles at a time, stirring the rice frequently. Each time the liquid is almost completely absorbed, add some more stock. Continue adding the liquid in this manner, stirring often, to develop the starch in the rice. It should take about 20 minutes for the rice to cook once you start adding the liquid.
- When the rice is done, it will be plump and al dente- tender but still firm to the bite. At this point, lower the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, asparagus, peas, parsley, parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Stir to combine all ingredients well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with parsley and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
If you’re trying to incorporate more whole grains into your diet, you can use the same technique with barley, faro, brown rice, wheat berries or other whole grains. To see my recipe for Mushroom Barley Risotto, CLICK HERE.