Italy: Risotto

Italy: Risotto

Buongiorno! Today’s recipe is a special one to me, because it’s the first one in my #GentGoesGlobal series that I learned to cook straight from the source. Before coronavirus attacked and ruined everything good about the world, my Italian sister-in-law was spending some time in America getting to see her family over here. It was so much fun getting to know her, going out and showing her American night life, and sitting on the patio at night with red wine and risotto while we discussed the ways in which Italian and American societies differed or shared some qualities.

(Side note: remember clubs? Bars? Restaurants? It feels like it’s been years since these memories occurred – the thought of being in close contact with strangers now seems so alien. Thanks, rona.)

So, before everything went to hell, I had her over to teach me how to make risotto the Italian way. It was fun for my husband and I to learn the names of ingredients in Italian, and eating the results of our labor felt like a true experience of bringing cultures together. What struck me most about the experience was the way in which she showed me how to cook the risotto. She measured the wine with her eyes in a glass; she put in a knob of butter and tasted it before adding more; she stirred it and kept her eye on the consistency, not the clock. People have this idea that risotto is incredibly difficult and fussy, but she was so confident in what she was doing that she relied on her senses rather than a recipe.

As a perfectionist, this is a way of cooking that is completely foreign to me. I’m always worried about messing something up, and I’m sure that the only way to make sure it’s right is to follow the recipe to the letter! But this wasn’t anxiety cooking – this was true cooking, with love and instinct. It was cooking the way it should be!

So while you read this recipe, keep in mind that you’re looking for texture and flavor, not a certain time on the clock. If I say to cook your asparagus for a specific time but your stove is hot and they look done a little early, take it off the heat! If you’ve let your risotto simmer for the amount of time I say to, but it’s still not thick, leave it on there a little while longer! Use your instincts and your preferences, and you’ll come out with an amazing, comforting, tasty dish.

This version of risotto is meant to be forgiving and easy. I apologize in advance for the heart attack that this might give purists, but it’s perfectly ok to make substitutions and take shortcuts – even with a dish as time-honored as risotto. Use white wine or red, chicken stock or vegetable stock, whatever you have on hand. In the end, what matters is that you cook from the heart, and share it with those that you love.

Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.

“Dirty” Asparagus and Artichoke Risotto

Traditional risotto is perfectly blonde and positively fussy. This "dirty" version punches with Merlot and red onion, adding a bold flavor while simplifying the process. Don't get scared, just get cooking!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 bunch asparagus (spears cut in half)
  • 4 Tbsp butter (divided in half)
  • 1 red onion (diced)
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 6 oz jar artichoke hearts
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage

Instructions
 

  • First, prepare the asparagus. Cut the spears in half and put in a large saucepan full of boiling water. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until tender but not falling apart. Drain and cool before slicing into small chunks.
  • Next, melt half of the butter (2 Tbsp) in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the diced red onion and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the rice and stir so all of the butter coats the grains. Let toast for a minute or 2, without letting the rice brown or burn. Add the Merlot and stir to mix evenly. When the Merlot is absorbed by the rice, begin adding your stock, little by little, stirring constantly to avoid burning the bottom of the risotto. After each addition of stock, stir until it has fully been absorbed by the rice before adding more. The end consistency should be cooked rice that is thick, almost like a sauce. It should not be watery, or too thick. If it's too thick, you can add more stock; too watery, and cook until more of the liquid evaporates (still stirring, of course).
  • Towards the end of the cooking process, turn the heat to low and add the herbs, asparagus, and artichoke hearts, and stir until everything is combined. Let sit, covered, for the flavors to meld for about 5 minutes on low heat (just enough to keep it warm and let the rice set up further). Serve on broad plates* and enjoy!

Notes

* The reason I suggest broad plates is because risotto is meant to be enjoyed while warm or hot. The way my sister-in-law suggested eating it is to flatten the risotto on your plate and eat from the edges inward. That way, you’re always eating the coolest part, and you prevent the innermost portion from continuing to cook with the heat of the food around it. 
Keyword italian, rice, risotto

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