“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.” –Auguste Escoffier
I’ve got, in my opinion, one of the best cookbooks you can buy, at home. Made In Italy Food and Stories by Giorgio Locatelli. This was given to me by a chef I had worked for quite a few years ago. Giorgio Locatelli is a very talented, Michelin starred and world renowned Italian chef who owns and runs Locanda Locatelli in the UK. In his book mentioned above, he has about 70 pages devoted to history, information, stories and recipes centered around; Risotto.
When I started my cooking internship at La Locanda di Piero, my chef told me that by the time I left, I’d know how to make risotto. Among many other things, that’s certainly one thing I took away with me. On the downside however, I tend to get very critical when I go out to eat, especially when it comes to things like risotto, pasta, and gnocchi.
Risotto is most commonly made from Arborio or Carnaroli rice. These types of rice are what gives risotto it’s creamy texture due to the grain releasing starch during cooking, which is what provides for a rich mouth feel at the end. There is a very specific way to make risotto which if not followed, or if corners are cut, it will not turn out the way it should. Risotto is not by any means “unhealthy” as that is a subjective term. People tend to think that risotto has a ton of carbs, butter and cheese. But, if good quality ingredients are used, then the butter and cheese are meant to compliment those ingredients, not overwhelm them. As far as the carbs are concerned, there really isn’t any more carbs in a serving of risotto than in regular rice. Knowing how much you should have, compared to how much you want is a different story.
It is in my general opinion that if people would learn to cook properly and actually spend a little time doing it, they would be happier and healthier. I don’t like to split hairs on what is healthy and what is not; the common question of what is better; brown rice or white rice tends to bother me. As long as you are able to understand what a specific food will provide from a nutritional standpoint in comparison to your individual caloric needs and how much of it to eat, this is far more important. A serving of this will give me roughly 35 grams of carboydrate, 20 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein for a total of roughly 380 calories. This is something that I can afford due to my relatively high caloric needs. Someone weighing less than me with needs that are also less, may only have half of a cup.
In properly making risotto, I always start off by sweating off some finely diced, white onion in fat. Typically, I’ll use canola oil, walnut oil, bacon fat (if I think it will add to a recipe and it makes sense) or other animal fat. Once the onions become translucent, I will add in the rice to toast it, stirring constantly. It becomes important at this point, to be careful not to use too much heat as you don’t want the rice (and onion) to burn. This “toasting” is an essential part of making the risotto because it allows all of the rice granules to be individually coated in the cooking fat, heat up, and then subsequently cook more uniformly. After about 10-15 minutes, or when you start to get a “nutty” aroma from the rice, add some dry white wine, stir, and let the wine cook down a bit. If making the risotto right from here, continue adding the hot stock and principal ingredients, such as mushrooms in this case.
Properly adding the stock is also a very important part of the process. The stock must already be hot. Set it up right next to your risotto pan, where you can carefully ladle in the stock to the rice. This must be done in parts, by the ladle-full, and this is where it becomes a little tricky. Each addition of stock must be done just to barely cover the surface of the rice. Don’t add more stock until the previous addition has been absorbed. Dependent on the amount of rice being made, it will likely only take two to three separate additions of stock before the end. Make sure to be diligent in stirring the entire time, otherwise you’ll get an uneven cooking of the rice and it will stick to the bottom of the pan making for a really bad time, and ruined risotto! Towards the end of the cooking, you will see it start to thicken, the surface becoming sort of shiny. It is important to be diligent in this preparation as the stock can always be added, but never taken away! This should take roughly 15 minutes. At this point, remove the pot from the heat and let rest. The rice should be creamy, not runny. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary however, be very careful as it will be extremely hot. Add the butter, cheese and a bit of good extra virgin olive oil with a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Beat in vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. If the risotto is too thick, add a touch of stock. If you can ladle out a scoop of risotto onto a plate and tilt it, the risotto should very slowly start to spread on the plate.
I prefer to have/ serve risotto spread across the plate like this because when you sprinkle fresh herbs, or add other elements to the dish like the toasted mushrooms, each bite will taste the same due to a larger surface area being garnished with the finishing touch.
2 Cups Arborio Rice
8-9 Cups of Mushroom Broth (see below) or Chicken Stock
3 Pints of Mushrooms (preferably wild/foraged,)
1 Pint of Shitake mushrooms julienned, toasted (see below)
1 Ounce Canola Oil
1 Cup White Wine dry
1 Large white onion chopped fine
Salt & White Pepper to taste
2 TBSP Parsley chopped fine
4 TBSP Butter (good quality, i.e. Kerrygold, Plugra, portioned by the tbsp)
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality, look for “first cold pressed, extra virgin.” It will NOT be cheap and should be in a glass, dark green bottle. You will never use a lot of it, only for occasions like this.)
Around a Cup of Parmesan Cheese finely grated
When cleaning and preparing the mushrooms for the risotto, most people will throw away the stems. In this case, for a mushroom risotto, if you didn’t have chicken stock on hand, you can make a quick mushroom broth. Do this by starting the discarded mushroom stems in a pot with cool water. Slowly bring the mushroom stock up to just under a simmer and hold for about 20-30 minutes. When ready to use, you may strain, or just ladle right from hear being careful not to drop the stems into the risotto. You can also do this using chicken stock for even more depth of flavor.
Take the julienned shitake mushrooms and toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them onto a parchment lined sheet pan and “toast” them in the oven at 325F until dry. Check every 10-15 minutes, move them around a bit so they toast evenly. Keep in mind that as they cool they will become crispier.