Risotto is one of the world’s great rice dishes. It’s a traditional Italian dish that must be made from rice varieties with very high starch contents. Its distinctive cooking method gently coaxes the starches out of each rice grain, giving the dish its characteristic creaminess. An exercise in patience, but the results are more than worth the effort!
Yield: Serves 4 as a main, or 6 -8 as a side dish
8 or 9 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli or other risotto-grade rice
1/2 cup white wine
a sprinkle or two sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
Pour the chicken broth into a stockpot, and bring to a very slow simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, splash the olive oil into a second saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté them for a few minutes until they’re translucent and soft. Stir in the rice and continue cooking, stirring constantly until the grains are well coated with oil and slightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on the rice grains; they’ll transform from pure white to almost entirely opaque.
Pour in the wine and stir because the rice quickly absorbs the liquid. Begin adding the heated stock, 1 cup (250 mL) a time, stirring constantly to allow each addition of the liquid to be absorbed by the rice before adding more. Because the broth is already hot, the temperature of the rice will stay consistently hot, which, along with the constant stirring, encourages the release of the starch in the rice. In turn, the starch thickens the surrounding liquid and makes it creamy.
Continue adding the hot broth, stirring frequently, until the risotto is tender and creamy. Taste frequently to judge the doneness of the rice grains. It will take about 20 minutes from the time you add the first broth to when the rice is done.
Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the peas, parsley and cheese. Serve immediately.
There are as many different types of risotto as there are Italian cooks, and each has a signature ingredient or two. Feel free to add olives, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. You may finish the risotto by stirring in lots of fresh Basil Pesto (page XX) or any other fresh herb, such as thyme, chives or oregano.
Couscous is a grain-like form of pasta made from semolina flour, the same flour used to make pasta. It’s very common throughout the Mediterranean and North Africa. In Morocco it’s often served with dried fruits and nuts and lots of mysterious aromatic spiciness.
A bowl full of freshly made corn polenta is one of the world’s great grain dishes. Polenta is a traditional Italian pudding thickened with cornmeal. Freshly made, it has a soft, creamy, addictively delicious texture. It can also be served by cooling and hardening it, then slicing it and grilling or pan-searing it until it forms a beautiful crispy crust with a creamy interior.