Now, before you start thinking that risotto is just too time consuming and difficult to make, lemme stop you right there. You're just being silly. In my house, risotto is just cheesy rice and if it sounds less daunting to call it that, then by all means, do it.
If you've got picky eaters in your house like I do, and their diet consists mostly of spaghetti and macaroni & cheese, give risotto a shot. The great thing about risotto is that you can throw just about anything into it and it will taste really good. Even leftovers. Start with the basic recipe to test the waters and then move on from there.
The other thing I love about risotto is that you can sneak stuff into it that your child might not otherwise eat. My son likes to say that he will eat mushrooms, but only if they are in cheesy rice. Why the distinction? I don't know. Maybe he just doesn't notice the mushrooms as well when they are in the rice. The reason for that? Well, because I take my cue from the movie Big Night and chop everything teeny, tiny, making it nearly impossible for little fingers to pick out things that they don't like. "I just don't see anything that looks like a shrimp or a scallop . . ." EXACTLY! (Pst! Don't watch this with your little one, unless you think it's cute for a toddler to use the F-word.) I love the crazy Americans in this clip who think that you should get a side of spaghetti and meatballs with your rice.
As per my usual, I based my recipe on a Food Network star's, in this case, Giada De Laurentiis, and my technique on Alton Brown. I don't follow either to the letter, because well, that's just the way I am. Risotto makes it easy to do your own thing.
Mama's Basic Risotto
Mama's Basic Risotto
4 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter, divided in half (you can also use part olive oil too)
1/2 medium onion (or 1 shallot) diced very small
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup wine (Use whatever you think tastes good, but usually a dry white wine is best. If you don't want to use wine, substitute with extra stock or even water. It won't taste the same though.)
1/4 heaping, to 1/2 cup, freshly grated Parmesan (don't even think of using the canned stuff!)
Salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Start by warming the chicken stock in a small pan to almost boiling. Keep over low heat. If you've got an electric kettle, Alton says to use that. I just stick mine in a 4-cup measuring cup, warm it in the microwave, then keep it on the "warm hold" setting.
In a large, heavy pan or big pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, but not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue to stir until the rice has absorbed some of the butter and is translucent. Add the wine and simmer until it has been almost completely absorbed. Meanwhile, take a big whiff and think about how yummy your dinner is going to be.
Add about a 1/2 cup of the stock and stir the rice. Contrary to what you've heard, you do not have to stir non-stop until the stock is absorbed. Give the rice a few good stirs now and then. Just don't walk away and leave it to take care of itself. You'll notice when the stock is starting to be mostly absorbed and then you'll want to stir it some more. Keep adding stock in this manner. I use Alton's method to check when more liquid is needed. When you can pull the rice back and see the bottom of the pan without the rice sliding back in, add more liquid.
Usually, when I've got about a cup of stock left I'll taste-test the rice to see if it's cooked, or needs more stock. Four cups usually works out perfect for me. By the fourth cup your rice should be really creamy and yummy looking. Remove from the heat when the final cup has been completely absorbed, add in the rest of your butter, then stir until melted. Add the cheese and stir until incorporated. Add some pepper (not too much!), then taste-test. If needed, add some salt to taste. You may find that the butter and cheese add enough saltiness, so be careful not to over salt.
Serve immediately when it's at its warm and creamiest.
Once you've got the basic recipe down try adding in vegetables or meat. Alton suggests not more than two ingredients at a time and always make sure they're fully cooked before adding to the rice. Add the extra ingredients after the last bit of liquid has been absorbed. My favorite is just plain and simple mushroom risotto. Try adding some left-over chicken and some roasted vegetables. Mmm, yum! That would be fantastic! Hmm . . . I may have to make that one soon!