Simple Risotto

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

TIME: 45 minutes

Read the preceding text, learn the basic technique here, then use the recipes and suggestions that follow to build on it. If you don’t have vegetable stock on hand, I suggest making Simple, Easy, and Fast Vegetable Stock or just poaching a carrot, an onion, a celery stalk, and a garlic clove in water for 20 minutes and using that. If you must use straight water, up the other flavorings a bit. If you use oil instead of butter and omit the cheese, you’ll have vegan risotto.

4 to 6 cups vegetable stock

Large pinch saffron threads (optional)

4 to 6 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil, to taste

1 medium onion, minced

11/2 cups Arborio or other short- or medium-grain rice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Put the stock in a medium saucepan over low heat; add the saffron if you’re using it. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter or oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. (Allow the remaining butter to soften while you cook.) When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with butter, 2 to 3 minutes. Add a little salt and pepper, then the white wine. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

Use a ladle to begin to add the warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tender but with still a tiny bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons softened butter or oil (more is better, at least from the perspective of taste!) and at least 1/2 cup of Parmesan if you’re using it. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan at the table if you like.

Variations

Risotto with Herbs. Fresh herbs change the character of any risotto: Along with the cheese, stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped leaves of parsley, basil, dill, mint, chervil, oregano, marjoram, or a combination.

Risotto with Vegetables and Herbs. In Step 1, add 1 stalk celery and 1 medium carrot, chopped, along with the chopped leaves of 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried. Cook until the vegetables are glossy and the onion softens, then proceed with the recipe.

Risotto with Lemon. Follow the preceding variation, but when the rice is almost done (Step 4), stir in the grated zest of a lemon. Stir in the juice of the lemon along with the butter at the very end. Add the Parmesan and serve as directed.

Risotto with Red Wine. Omit the saffron and white wine. Substitute a bottle of decent red wine for the stock (use water or stock to make up the difference). The color will be a lovely reddish brown.

Risotto with Four Cheeses. It’s worth noting that good, creamy Gorgonzola can almost always substitute for Parmesan in finishing risotto; but this combo is over the top: When you would ordinarily stir in the Parmesan, add equal amounts (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup each) of grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano, chopped Gorgonzola or other creamy blue cheese, and shredded or chopped fontina or other semisoft but not-too-mild cheese. Other cheeses that will do nicely: cubed or shredded mozzarella; shredded mild cheese, like jack; any hard cheese, like Grana Padano.

Risotto with Nuts. Chop about 1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts or almonds (see The Nut and Seed Lexicon) or shelled pistachios and stir them in with the cheese.