It appears that we went with Italian-themed dinners this past Christmas season: a pasta dish for Christmas Eve, and now a risotto dish for Christmas dinner. Truth be told, we also had a polenta dish between Christmas and the New Year. It’s not because we’re Italian; instead, we just like good food, and think that Italian dishes are some of the best around.
We think that, of Italian dishes, risotto is probably one of the best, provided it’s made correctly; however, we happen to know that at least 9 out of 10 restaurants we’ve tried do not make it correctly. But, you, oh lucky one, can learn how to make it yourself, and, after a few times of making risotto, will be able to make this creamy, cheesy rice dish with the best of them. Now, if that doesn’t want to get you scratchin’, I don’t know what will.
The most important thing about making risotto is to use the right sort of rice. Although there are several types of rice that work, the easiest to find is arborio rice, which is what we use. Next up, use a really good cheese; in this case, we’re suggesting a real Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s expensive, but there’s a reason it’s referred to as the king of cheeses. Do realize, though, that you can use other types of cheeses, too; we’ve made risotto with goat cheese, feta cheese, even Cheddar cheese, but we think this should be the classic Parmesan. Lastly, use a wine you like to drink because you’ll have a lot left over.
Procedure in detail:
Char green beans. Lightly oil a large heavy-bottomed skillet and place it over medium-high heat. We just rub a bit of oil onto a cast iron skillet for charring, as using more oil will cause spattering. Continue heating until the oil just begins to smoke, then immediately add the green beans and spread into a single layer. Let the beans sear for a few minutes, then give the pan a shake to flip the beans and continue to sear. Continue searing and shaking until the beans are nicely charred all around. Sprinkle with salt, remove from the pan, and slice into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Heat broth. You need to add hot broth when cooking risotto, so place the broth in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and keep hot.
Cook onions and garlic. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When melted and foamy, add the onion and garlic — we like to sprinkle them with a bit of salt and pepper right at the beginning — and cook, stirring very often, until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Try not to let them brown; instead, try to get that delicious soft onion-garlic mixture.
Add wine. Pour in the wine and start stirring. This is practice for what’s coming. Keep stirring until all the wine has evaporated and is absorbed, but the rice hasn’t started to stick to the pan, about 5 minutes.
Add broth and stir. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the hot broth — a ladle comes in handy here to scoop the stock into the rice. Now stir. Just a nice, even stirring, nothing ferocious. Keep stirring, and, just as with the wine, continue until all the stock is absorbed or evaporated.
Repeat. Keep adding stock and stirring in just the same way. You’ll notice that, each time, the broth is creamier than the last. After about 3 additions, perhaps 15 minutes, test the rice for doneness. Bite into a grain to check its crunchiness. You want the center just slightly crunchy. Not chewy, but slightly crunchy, as if there’s a nugget of raw rice in the very center. This is the cue that your rice will be done perfectly in about 5-7 minutes.
Add green beans. Stir in the green beans and about 1/2 cup more stock. Continue stirring and testing the rice as you work. You want the beans to heat through while the rice finishes, and you want the center of the rice slightly chewy. When your rice is ready, remove it from the heat.
Stir in cheese. Add the grated Parmesan and stir it in. Cover the risotto and let it stand for about 5 minutes so the cheese can melt. Then, give everything a bit of a stir.
Season. Taste, and add salt and pepper, as needed. If you think it needs a bit more cheese, add that now, too.
Add cream. If your risotto isn’t creamy enough, add a couple of tablespoons of stock (or cream, or a tablespoon of butter), and stir it in. Serve immediately, topped with radicchio shavings.
We love risotto, so we don’t mind the amount of effort that it takes to make a batch. However, we realize that some people may find it a bit daunting, all the stirring, and adding broth a bit at a time, but, after a few times making risotto, you’ll be an old hand and think nothing of it. This is a good, basic, risotto to start with, and yet charring the green beans adds a slight smokiness to keep it interesting. Because of all the stirring required, four stars.