Like a plate of al dente pasta, risotto waits for no-one. When it is ready “tutti a tavola!” It is luxurious in its creamy consistency and a vehicle for my favorite seasonal ingredients.
I remember the first time I made risotto at a cooking class in NYC. The slab of butter hits the pot, sizzle, melt. Sauté onion until glossy, transparent and soft. Cue the arborio rice, the smell of toasty buttery popcorn fills my nostrils. Stir, stir, stir. Add liquid in small batches, wine, water or broth or all three. It gently simmers like the first ripples when a breeze hits a flat lake. Constantly stir the rice with a wooden spoon in a deep cozy pot. Cook until the grain tips become tender and light in color and the center remains al dente enveloped by its creamy starchy liquid.
Along the way, season with salt, add seasonal vegetables or seafood or both. End with extra butter, perhaps some grated cheese. Let rest for two minutes and serve. Make extra for homemade arancini.
There’s something soothing and inviting about making risotto, like kneading dough for pasta, it is my meditation.
Italian risotto is made with medium-grain rice varieties that are large enough to withstand its long cooking method that uses the rice starch to thicken the cooking liquid into a creamy sauce.
Risotto appears in our kitchen at least twice a month. Often not planned, I open a nearly bare refrigerator and scavenge ingredients to assemble a seemingly decadent dish. My 10 favorite risotto flavor combinations are:
1 – Risotto alla Milanese
This dish typical of Milan is beyond luscious. I have eaten this countless times. I enjoyed the most meaningful and memorable version of this dish after harvesting saffron with the Cooperativa Altopiano di Navelli.
2 – Roast Asparagus, Mint, Peas & Fava Beans
I look forward to the arrival of fresh fava beans, peas, and asparagus in Roman markets and when dishes like la vignarola appear on restaurant menus. Risotto with any combination of these vegetables means springtime is in the air.
3 – Seafood & shellfish
Seafood has a weekly place in my kitchen whether it be baked sea bass, anchovy and potato pie or spaghetti and clams. After some chit chat with our fish vendor about the catch of the day, we chose what to make. Mussel, clam and calamari risotto is one dish that we love. Be sure to use fish broth to heighten the flavor.
4 – Strawberry & Franciacorta
Strawberries and champagne are a pairing for a celebration. The secret to this delicate dish is to keep it simple and to balance the flavor of the strawberries with the Franciacorta.
5 – Beet risotto
Beets are prominent in my winter cooking and eating! I have jars of preserved beets in my kitchen pantry to add to salads. I roast them to enjoy as a side dish and make borscht (classic beet soup) and make them a start in a risotto of red, golden or Chioggia candy-cane striped beets topped with a dollop of goat cheese.
6 – Pumpkin risotto
I never loved pumpkin dishes until I met the endless varieties in Italy. I roast them, puree them, make pasta with them, and add them to soups. It’s no surprise that I use them in diverse risotto combinations from straight up roast pumpkin to pumpkin, sage and hazelnuts. They are perfect for chilly autumn days.
7 – Roast Kale & Walnut
I could live on vegetables alone. Superfood kale has been in the Roman diet since Roman times and has been a part of mine for years. Packed with vitamin A (important for a strong immune system), vitamin C (helps prevent colds) and in vitamin K (good for strengthening/building bones). I continue to look for ways to include it in my diet including roasted with hazelnuts and risotto.
8 – Red Shrimp & Mascarpone
This risotto is sweet and buttery, and is inspired by my wine and cheese chats with Eleonora and her love for this combo.
9 – Turkey & Mushroom
After Thanksgiving, I make turkey broth and turn leftovers into a myriad of dishes including soup, chili and my favorite turkey and mushroom risotto.
10 – Grilled Radicchio & Gorgonzola
Bitter and smokey notes of grilled radicchio pair well with a sweet and spicy gorgonzola dolce. The cheese softens the bitterness of the radicchio. Add some walnuts and caramelized figs on top and serve.
Do you love risotto as much as me? Then join my online lesson.