Biba Caggiano taught me how to make risotto when I was 19. It was summer break during university. In between multiple jobs to save for tuition I found the time to watch PBS on Saturday afternoon. "Biba's Italian Kitchen" was always on. So I would sit in my Dad's office, taking notes, and watching Biba on a 12 inch screen.
When I went back to school and suddenly found myself alone in a basement suite, craving something more than a hearty salad I always turned to risotto. It was the comfort food that got me through my last year of university, in between thesis writing, working, and running a muffin business.
People are always so scared of risotto. I blame the recipes for this. Read a recipe for risotto and it is enough to scare off anyone - they are always so wordy and make it sound complex. But risotto is not complex. Nor does it require endless stirring.
Tonight we returned home from a weekend away, visiting family. We stopped at Edgar Farms on the way home for Asparagus Fest. There was a break in the rain and snow, so it worked out perfectly. We caught up with Doug, Elna, Keri, and Randy of Edgar Farms. We chatted with Wade and John. We ate, we pet animals, we jumped in puddles, and we definitely grabbed some asparagus. First from the field and then my mother-in-law treated us to a few bundles to take home (awfully generous of her since she also babysat for us last night!)
When we walked in the door at 6, everyone was exhausted from a busy weekend and an afternoon outside. To be honest, I was real tempted to give in to Hubby's request for the pizza man delivery. Then I decided we needed to eat more asparagus, but we also needed something warming. Something to fill our bellies but still feel light enough to remind us that it is indeed still spring. Risotto! Lemon Asparagus Risotto to be specific.
I'm not going to give you a recipe. Risotto, I think, is more of a basic technique than a recipe. Now, I've never served to an Italian grandmother, so mine could totally suck. But we all love it. In fact, risotto is the only way The Monster will eat rice. So, don't be scared, here is my technique for risotto.
1. Finely dice a small/medium onion. Toss in a tall sided frying pan with a generous swig of olive oil or knob of butter. or both. Sweat them out on medium heat.
2. While the onion is cooking mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Add to onions and stir.
3. Immediately add your Arborio rice (available in most grocery stores and definitely in an Italian market). I use about a handful a person. Stir in and get the rice coated with the oil/butter.
4. If you happen to have wine in the house, pour a generous slosh of it in the pan and let it reduce. No wine? So what.
5. Once your wine has reduced, if you've used it, start adding in hot chicken stock, veggie stock, or water. Yes, I think it is okay to use water, you will just have to season really well at the end. Add in the liquid about a ladle at a time. Stir well before and after each addition.
6. Add a ladle of liquid every few minutes or so. The goal is to have the liquid be absorbed slowly. So when it looks like you have little liquid, add more. After about 15 minutes, start tasting. Risotto should have a bit of "tooth" to it. In other words, you don't want it mushy, but it should be creamier than regular rice.
7. When it reaches the right consistency, turn off the heat. Stir in some more olive oil or butter - whichever one you used with the onions - another good swig or knob. Also stir in some cheese - parmesan, manchego, asiago - a grated hard cheese is my preference. Serve immediately.
Tonight I also stirred in some asparagus that I blanched for a bit and some lemon zest. Another night I might stir in roasted butternut squash, or sauteed mushrooms, or maybe peppers and zucchinis. Cook's choice. I just recommend that you cook the veggies separately so they don't get overdone or mushy in the cooking rice.
Okay, now that I've written that out it does seem wordy and complex. Trust me, it's not.
After a quiet evening of movie watching we then had a pre-bed snack with the girls. I also picked up some rhubarb at Edgar Farms so I made this lovely Rhubarb Upside Down Cake.