I can’t quite remember when risotto went from being a favourite menu item when dining out to a weeknight staple around our table; a go-to comfort food that changed with the produce brought by each new season.
It may have been when my Italian culinary school chef tutored my class on the art of the risotto, instructing us never to rush the dish or the rice would guess our haste and become gummy rather than creamy. Perhaps I became less intimidated to cook the classic dish after testing it out frequently on Danny when we were newlyweds.
At any rate, I eventually discovered that the cheesy rice dish was an indispensable vehicle for getting my children to eat vegetables. Ever since, I’ve seldom been without the basic ingredients for risotto: chicken or vegetable stock in the freezer, butter and Parmesan cheese in the fridge, rice and onions in the pantry.
In hindsight, the risotto I made as a beginner and the risotto I stir together now is one and the same. I can’t figure out why the dish has a reputation for being complex or difficult to master, because the truth is, even the most inexperienced home cook can make an excellent risotto with great success. Today I’m going to show you how.
In winter, our one-pot risotto features everything from dried wild mushrooms to roasted winter squash. In spring I tuck in fat asparagus shoots and slivers of ham. In summer, however, nearly everything we grow in the garden takes a turn alongside the comforting combination of rice and cheese.
Recently, the boys each logged over an hour in the garden with me and this was by choice! Mateo discovered that Boston can be either a hockey team OR a lettuce – and that was just one lesson he learned that day. He let us harvest the first fruits of his pea plants and we pulled baby carrots from the rows of gently waving green tops. This was the beginning of our first vegetable harvest and the start of our risotto add-ins.
A handful of baby yellow zucchini joined the peas and the carrots, and I trimmed both basil and thyme for flavouring. One very young garlic was added to the bowl for a salad dressing and we were set for dinner.
Vegetables that cook quickly are ideal for adding to risotto. Think green peas, tiny cauliflower florets, diced bell peppers, shaved summer squash, slow roasted cherry tomatoes, and sweet corn kernels. In today’s dish, the carrots and squash were shaved into thin slices on a mandoline and then folded into the risotto near the end of cooking – so they stay al dente, just like the rice.
Firmer vegetables such as beets, fennel or winter squash must be partially cooked in advance. At least this is my method. There is more than one way to make risotto and I’m sure plenty of people would (and will) dispute the facts of this post.
Indisputable, however, is the fact that risotto should be made with the best quality ingredients possible. More on that below.
Tips for perfect risotto
It feels like at least half of my friends are vacationing in Italy this summer and I can’t help but think back to a flawless risotto I enjoyed many years ago in Tuscany. We were on the outskirts of a tiny town called San Gimignano, seated on a terrace overlooking vineyards and olive groves. Yes, it was at sunset.
I had been debating between the ricotta ravioli and the risotto with white truffles. The risotto won out, giving me not only my first taste of true truffles, but one of the top ten best dishes of my life. That is a list I should probably explore in another introspective post on my culinary journey, but today, we’re going to look at how to recreate that truly exceptional risotto, minus the truffles!
- Read the recipe through. Once the rice starts cooking, there’s no looking back. (Okay, there is a great method for do-ahead risotto, which is executed daily in professional restaurant kitchens, but we’ll have to get to that in another post.) Read, and have everything on hand.
- Prep as much as you can in advance. Measure the wine. Chop the onion. Wash the vegetables. Prepare an accompanying salad. Set the table. Once the risotto is finished, it is best enjoyed immediately.
- Don’t let flavours compete. I’m a fan of a generous amount of vegetables with my rice, but I try and keep them balanced. In this recipe, they are all relatively mild and complement each other as only early summer vegetables can.
- Choose the best quality ingredients possible. Don’t substitute powdered Parmesan for freshly grated, or tip in pepper from a box when fresh ground is available.
- Use homemade stock, chicken or vegetable from the freezer or freshly made. It makes all the difference in the world.
- Final seasoning is of the utmost importance. Taste the risotto after the Parmesan and butter have been added. Depending on how many vegetables have been added, you may need to add a generous amount of salt. This careful seasoning, added a pinch at a time between tastings, can make the difference between an okay risotto and an excellent risotto.
|Early Summer Risotto with New Garden Vegetable & Herbs|| |
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 small or 4 baby yellow squash
- 4-6 baby carrots, scrubbed
- 1/2 cup new peas, shelled
- 3 Tablespoons salted butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup diced onion (I like to use red)
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- salt to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (black works too)
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Pour stock into a medium pot and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and keep warm.
- Thinly slice zucchini and carrots on a mandoline or with a sharp knife. Set aside together with the peas.
- In a large heavy bottomed pot, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter with the oil. When butter is bubbling, add onion and stir to combine. Sauté onions for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add rice all at once and stir thoroughly. You want rice to be completely coated in butter and give each grain a chance to be toasted. This takes about one minute.
- Add white wine and stir well. Be careful, as it will steam viciously. Cook for another minute or two until most of the liquid evaporates.
- Add several ladlefuls of hot stock to the rice. Stir well. Keep heat on medium and continue adding stock slowly and stirring thoroughly. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. You may need more liquid, in which case, just add more hot water.
- When the rice grains are tender, but still with a slight bite to them, add the prepared vegetables. Stir gently to combine. Cook for 4 minutes.
- Tip in the Parmesan, pepper and remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter. Stir to combine, but do NOT over stir, as risotto will become gummy instead of creamy. Taste the risotto and add salt as needed.
- Lastly, fold in the fresh herbs. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl, if using, and top with remaining Parmesan and a few additional herbs. Serve with a spoon and enjoy.
Becky has yet another seasonal eating produce guide for July and our group of #EatSeasonal bloggers are posting recipes all this week. Keep an eye on the following websites for seasonal inspiration for the month of July:
- Cookie and Kate
- Kitchen Confidante
- Climbing Grier Mountain
- Lauren’s Latest
- Molly Yeh
- Cafe Johnsonia
- Project Domestication
- Completely Delicious
- Mountain Mama Cooks
- Naturally Ella
- Cookin’ Canuck
- Foodie Crush
- Two Peas and Their Pod
You can also check out the #eatseasonal hashtag on Instagram.
What are you excited to cook this July?