Who would think of such a thing? Not us, that’s for sure. And that’s even after we’ve had risotto made with blueberries! Recipes like this keep us looking through cookbooks, as we never know exactly what will pique our interest. Now, of course, there are far too many cookbooks coming out for us to buy them to peruse. And, no, we don’t just stand in the bookstore and browse, either. Instead we hit the public library.
That’s how we found The Cheesemonger’s Seasons, by Chester Hastings. It was in the new book list, so we just put a reserve on it, and, a few weeks later, it was ours (for three weeks, anyway). There, right in the summer season section, was a recipe for Strawberry risotto. And, as it happens, organic strawberries were on sale at one of the markets nearby. It was a sign that we had to try this dish as soon as possible. Of course, we did change it somewhat to match what we had on hand.
If strawberry risotto sounds like something you’d like to try, well, get scratchin’.
Use a good, low-salt stock. Notice that you’ll be cooking away moisture from the stock, so, if you don’t have a low-salt broth, your risotto may end up tasting like a salt lick. Don’t even think about making risotto with regular rice. It will not work. Arborio rice (and a few other similar short grained rices) releases starch while cooking, making for a creamy texture. Use a white wine that you like; we find that Barefoot brand Pinot Grigio works well for us. We chose cream cheese, because the original recipe called for a creamy Robiola cheese, and we were fresh out. Drat. (Actually, we’re not sure we’ve ever had Robiola). Use a high-quality Parmesan or its cousin, Grana Padano. We doubt that high-quality anything ever comes in a green shaker box. Finally, for strawberries, we used organic. If you’ve ever read about how conventional strawberries are grown, you might really consider using organic, too.
Procedure in detail:
Heat stock. Place the stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce heat and let simmer. You’ll be using up the stock, adding a bit at a time, while you make the risotto. If the stock isn’t hot, the rice won’t release its starch, and tends to be gummy.
Cook onions. Melt butter in a larger saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, stir in the onions and cook until translucent and tender, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Browning the onions can give them a slightly bitter taste, which you don’t want in this dish.
Add rice. Add the rice to the onions and butter and stir to coat. Cook the rice, stirring continuously, until the grains look translucent near the edges with a white spot in the middle, but no longer than 2 minutes. If you cook the rice longer, the coating on the rice will seal, holding in the starch (no creaminess), and preventing the broth from penetrating (crunchy rice). Either would be bad in and of itself, but together — shudder.
Add wine. Stir the wine into the rice and let most of it cook away, stirring occasionally at first, and stirring continuously once the wine is nearly gone.
Add stock. Here’s the secret to risotto: add the hot stock a bit at a time, stirring continuously until it’s absorbed or reduced before adding more. So, add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of broth (we have a ladle that’s about 1/4 cup which works perfectly), and stir, stir, stir, until the stock is absorbed, then add another ladleful. After about 20 minutes of adding stock, stirring, adding stock, check the rice to see if it’s done. It will be slightly chewy in the center, but not raw, and tender on the outside. It may take as long as 40 minutes for the rice to cook, so don’t be surprised if it’s crunchy at the 20-minute mark. If the rice is done and close to dry, add another ladleful of stock so the rice looks as if it’s swimming in some gravy. Note: if you run out of stock, replace it with boiling water near the end.
Add cream cheese. Stir in the cream cheese until it melts, then remove the pan from the heat.
Add strawberries and Parmesan. Fold in the strawberry slices and the grated Parmesan cheese, cover, and let stand to 5 minutes to melt the Parmesan and warm the strawberries through.
Season. Stir the risotto, taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately. Risotto does not take well to being warmed, so you really need to serve it at once. If you’re feeling fancy, place a few strawberry pieces on top.
Hmm. Strawberry risotto is good and we’re glad we tried it, but we’ll have to say that we prefer risottos flavored with mushrooms. But, that’s just our taste. The risotto turned out very creamy, thanks to the cream cheese, and full of flavor from the strawberries. It was interesting to take a bite of something that’s normally quite savory, and, instead, get a sweet/tart flavor from the strawberries. Not bad, just incongruous, although we did end up using a bit more salt for flavoring than usual. We also tried drizzling just a few drops of balsamic vinegar on the risotto (balsamic vinegar and strawberries are a wonderful pairing), and we thought that was a nice improvement. We did like the nice pink color of the rice (but, we’re used to that from the times we’ve make risotto using beet stock), which made for a colorful dinner, especially with green peas. We guess this dish is four stars, probably closer to 3.5 stars.