The Demands and Rewards of Risotto

Sweet Pea and Onion Risotto

Recently, we served a delicious summer sweet pea and onion risotto…incredible!

Fussy, high-maintenance, temperamental, stubborn, hard to control, attention hog…these are but a few of the descriptors for Risotto. We here at Alpine Bakery, however, prefer to call it DELICIOUS.

Let’s start at the beginning. The dictionary defines risotto as: a dish of short-grained rice and other ingredients cooked in stock. Risotto is also synonymous with Italy, and Italian cooking. The irony is it’s made with rice, not pasta…so how did that happen? Easy. Like a lot of good food and ideas, it migrated.  Rice was introduced to Sicily and parts of the Southern Mainland in the late middle ages by the Arabs.  In Italy today, Risotto is thought of as comfort food…which is also somewhat ironic, since the idea of preparing it in this country makes even seasoned cooks slightly uncomfortable.

Now let’s look at the specifics of why that’s the case.

Arborio rice is the rice. There are other types of rice used occasionally, but Arborio is widely considered the staple of risotto. Stock is most often chicken stock.

Now here comes the real improvisational part… you can add whatever. Added ingredients run the gamut, and often include fresh vegetables like peas, mushrooms, and asparagus as well as proteins like pancetta, and fresh seafood to name a handful.

Onions are necessary in almost everyone’s risotto. Herbs however, are up to the chef’s discretion… depending on the mood, moment, or what’s on hand. Typically, basic risotto calls for fresh, chopped parsley…although rosemary and thyme are used just as widely.

Other essential ingredients are butter, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and of course cheese. Cheese favorites are Parmesan, Parmesan- Reggiano, Asiago or Romano. Freshly grated is the way to go.

The ingredients and ingredient choices sound so simple and straightforward… that still doesn’t explain the fuss. Could it be the actual cooking time that causes the stress? Truth is that once you’ve begun the cooking process, risotto should take no more than 30 minutes. In fact, professional chefs can often get that cooking time down to 20 (and slightly under) minutes!

So what is it that earns Risotto its “fussy reputation?”

Very simply… preparing Risotto is ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE. And to further complicate the preparation, there is some disagreement on proper technique.

The basic, yet critical, steps of making the base, toasting the rice, and adding in the broth a scoop at a time are one part art, and one part science. Here are a few tips, although it’s important to stress, these are by no means universal.

Added ingredients are cooked in olive oil, never butter.

The rice is first fried… a process that takes about 10 minutes over a moderate flame, while stirring constantly.

The wine is incorporated after it has been heated—then the wine is allowed to evaporate completely before adding the remaining ingredients, and the broth. NOTE. There are two distinct schools of thought on this next step… Ingredients are either added in one ladle at time or, they are added all at once.

Here’s another difference of opinion and frankly point of contention among risotto connoisseurs….no butter, and no cream at the end, ever.

So you see, the “interpretative nature” with regard to the technique present some very real challenges.  However, one hard and fast rule is to have everything at the ready before you begin so you can give all the attention to performing all that technique. We wish you luck! Or, you can forget all the fuss and worry and simply join us at Alpine for Risotto, as well as many other exceptional Italian favorites anytime you’d like.