Risotto was one of the first “grown-up” dishes I mastered as a 20-something. Years later, it’s become my husband’s specialty. Our kids never tire of this comforting, slow-cooked rice dish. Though Italian-food purists insist you eat risotto hot and fresh, I never absorbed that inflexible attitude. I learned to make it from a battered copy of The Joy of Cooking — not exactly a treatise on the Tuscan cucina. One summer, I worked with a waiter who snacked between shifts on Wheat Thins spread with leftover risotto.
That was addictive, but even better is the pancake you can make with leftovers the day after cooking a big batch. Browned in butter and dusted with Parmesan, it can surpass the original dish in savory satisfaction. The traditional mode is to make one large cake that fills the whole pan, but can be difficult to turn. If you don’t mind the possibility of a mess, it’s worth a try. My kids love to watch me attempt this flip, and if I’m not feeling too cranky, I let them try.
It’s true that making risotto calls for a 20 minute period of standing over the stove periodically stirring the pot. (I use this time to be alone with the radio while the kids do chores or homework.) Otherwise, it’s a breeze, requiring nothing more advanced than chopping, sautéing, and stirring. Aside from starchy short-grain rice, your basic pantry will supply everything: onions, broth, Parmesan. Paired with a salad, it’s an easy meal for a cool weeknight.
Risotto in Bianco
Get this under your belt, and any other risotto is within reach. Try sautéing celery, carrots, and garlic with the onions and stir in tomatoes later. Peas, roasted winter squash, browned sausage, sautéed mushrooms, or other veggies can go in 10 minutes before rice is done.
8 c (2 qt.) chicken broth
2 T butter or olive oil plus 1 T butter
1 onion, minced
2 c arborio rice or another starchy
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 cup grated Parmesan
In a medium pot, bring the broth to a simmer. Over medium heat, warm the butter or oil in a large saucepan, then add onions and cook till translucent. Add rice and stir well for a few minutes until the fat has coated all the grains. If using, stir in white wine until the rice absorbs it. Using a ladle or 1 cup measure, add the hot broth one cup at a time. Stir, allowing rice to absorb liquid before adding next cup.
When ¾ of the broth has been used, add less each time and begin to taste the risotto. The rice should be tender but still slightly firm at the center, like al dente pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and when the rice has reached the texture you like, take it off the heat. It should be creamy and loose, but not quite soupy. Stir in the reserved tablespoon of butter, then the cheese. Serve in wide, shallow bowls.
Risotto al Salto
(Leftover Risotto Pancake)
1-2 cups leftover risotto
3 T butter
grated parmesan cheese
If you can, get the risotto out of the fridge up to an hour before cooking to come to room temperature. Mix in the egg. Heat a 9-inch cast iron or nonstick pan over medium heat. Add half the butter to the hot pan if you’re making a big cake; otherwise, put it all in.
Once the foam has subsided, swirl the butter around the pan and add the rice, either by big spoonfuls or all at once. If you’re making a big one, you may need to spread the rice in the pan. Small cakes will cook faster. Turn them when they have begun to set and are brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes, then brown side two.
For a larger cake, cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, then begin to check under the edges for browning. You should be able to loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula. When the bottom is nicely browned, loosen the pancake as well as you can. Remove the pan from the heat, and place a large plate over the pan. Quickly flip the pan and plate over together so that the cake falls to the plate. Put the pan back on the heat, with remaining butter. Slide the pancake back in, and cook till brown. If disaster occurs, just slide the bits back into the pan and brown them up as well as you can. It’ll still be delicious — just more like a hash. Serve with a generous dusting of parmesan.