Monday, August 11, 2014


I've had this hankering for risotto recently and last night I finally made it. Granted it took double the time I remembered and we ate at 8:30 pm, it was delightful and everything I wanted.

As I methodically stirred the risotto, memories of my first time making it rushed back. It was senior year of college and I was babysitting regularly for a family in Chapel Hill. The dad was a doctor and the mom worked from home as an editor, I believe. I picked up their kids from school, took them home, prepared dinner and shuttled the kids to and from practices. On this particular winter day, after shuffling inside with the kids in toe, I found a recipe for risotto sitting on the counter. The mom, a super organized, type-a-personality, popped in to say that risotto was on the calendar for tonight. She quickly asked if I had ever made risotto and to that, I admitted that no, I'd never made something quite that fancy (after all I was a college student!). "It's really not as complicated as everyone says," she told me, "it's just a lot of stirring!" At that, she wandered back into her office and shut the door. 

I began skimming the recipe and pulling out the ingredients. Unlike me, this mom was a planner. She had individually portioned (1 cup) chicken broth in the freezer. Not to mention the typed out grocery list, which was organized by aisle at her particular store, so that she could simply circle the items they needed to restock on at home. And, if it wasn't on her list, don't worry, she had additional "write-in" lines! We couldn't have been more different. So I set out to make their dinner, hoping that I wouldn't screw this thing up because they didn't really seem like the "buy some takeout on a whim because we screwed up the risotto" type of people. 

Dicing up an onion and some garlic, I let those soften in some oil, quickly filling the house with the sweet smell of browning onions. After a few minutes, I added the risotto. With small crackles of the rice hitting the cast iron skillet, I began to smell the nuttiness of the risotto. I let that cook for just two or three minutes, then I poured in some white wine. Any kind is fine, even some thats been sitting in your fridge is fine. I find that it's best to pour a glassful in the pan and then refill for your glass. You're going to need it with all this stirring. Once the liquid has soaked in, begin pouring in the chicken broth a half of a cup at a time. You will get into a rhythm, pour, stir, stir, stir, until the liquid is gone, add another half of a cup. I'm not actually sure how many cups I poured in, I just kept adding more broth until the arborio rice was soft when I bit into it. It will be a while and a lot of stirring so grab a book in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, or better yet convince a friend to chat with you while you stir. You will see a clear difference in your pan, from separated grains of rice to more of a creamy mixture. Make sure you add some salt and pepper here and there, maybe some mushrooms or a spritz of a lemon, too. I like a little fresh parmesan cheese grated on top and some arugula mixed in just before serving. This meal is rich and so satisfying.

The great thing about risottos is that there are so many ways to change it up. Add some veggies in the spring or butternut squash in the fall. It will not disappoint, I promise. 

I am happy to report that I successfully made it on that winter day in college. I snuck a few spoonfuls before running of to drop the kids at karate. It's a funny thing to prepare a family's dinner, but not share it with them. It felt a little bit wrong, maybe I just selfishly wanted some more of that creamy risotto, but to me sharing the meal with those you've prepared it for is the best part. It makes all the stirring worth while.

Risotto (4 people as a side dish)
1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
1 c. white wine
1-2 cartons of chicken broth (or homemade) ... I am not sure of the exact amount I used, but I always try to have two cartons on hand just in case I have to tap into the next one, usually one will do.
mushrooms, parmesan cheese, veggies, arugula (any extra add ins you can think of!)

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