Risotto is food for the gods. It comes from humble origins as grains of rice but develops into creamy luxuriousness that transports you to a dreamy and calmer world. I feel like I am being extravagant when I eat risotto, which is odd because it is essentially a bowl of rice with stock and cheese, nothing fancy, but what a transformation. Say the word risotto, people start to swoon and get weak in the knees. They can only respond by repeating your own words with a subtle exclamation, “Oohhhh rissoootooo, I love rissoootooo.”
The first time I had risotto was many years ago in a very fancy restaurant, Equus at The Castle in Tarrytown NY. It is a 5 star establishment that we were the lucky recipients of a gift certificate to. For our first course my husband ordered risotto and I, not knowing anything about risotto, ordered pumpkin soup. Joe being the generous person that he is, offered me a taste of his risotto. To this day it is the best thing that I have ever eaten. Selfishly, I was tempted to grab his bowl and make a run for it. Fortunately I did not run away and Joe continued to share his risotto with me. My bowl of pumpkin soup was pushed aside as we sat together savoring each bite and melting into our chairs. I do not remember anything else about that meal, only the risotto.
Risotto is a favorite dish of mine but I make only a few times a year. Mostly because it requires my undivided attention when I make it, and for various reasons I see risotto as a treat. I do not save it necessarily for special occasions, just when I feel like being indulgent and know I can give it my undivided attention. Please, take me back to that point in time when nothing else mattered and my husband and I were sharing our first bowl of risotto together.
Making risotto does require some work and skill, but mostly cooking confidence. I believe all cooks at any skill level should give it a try. You can substitute ingredients as is within your will and means, but because there are so few ingredients in the recipe, each one plays an important role and will affect the flavor of the risotto. Risotto is greater than the sum of its parts, with all of its parts adding up to enhance the flavor and transform humble ingredients into an elegant meal.
This recipe is inspired by two different types of risotto, Cauliflower Risotto and the traditional Risotto alla Milanese. I used two types of cauliflower, green and white to add some color to the dish, but I believe it would still look and taste lovely if you only used white cauliflower. I originally set out to make traditional cauliflower risotto, but I love saffron and decided it would be a nice addition. If you are not a fan of saffron then don’t use it and you will still be rewarded with a delicious and satisfying risotto.
Pointers for making risotto:
Homemade stock will give you a better tasting risotto then store-bought stock, this is especially true for vegetable stock. I have not found a decent store-bought vegetable stock from the grocery store. My experience with canned or boxed vegetable stock is it is usually orange in color and very dominant in one vegetable flavor like carrots or butternut squash. Not the flavors I want to stand out in a stock. If you have to buy stock, then buy chicken stock. When you have the time I urge you to make your own and freeze it for later. For a simple vegetable stock recipe click here.
I used vegetable stock in this recipe because it is a vegetable risotto and I wanted a lighter flavor. You can use chicken stock if you prefer a richer flavor, and not cooking for vegetarians.
Risotto is made using a specific type of short grain rice, Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. The most common one found in the US is Arborio rice. If you can get Carnaroli I would buy it over Arborio because it does not get as mushy as Arborio does. Either one is good. I have not seen Vialone Nano rice in any store here in the USA.
Risotto does require your undivided attention. Have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you start. You do not have to stir the risotto the entire time, but you do have to stir it most of the time so it does not burn on the bottom of the pan or stick. Stirring also develops the creaminess of the risotto.
You should use a high sided pan with a big “mouth”. A Dutch oven works really well. I used to use my sauté pan and I found the liquid evaporated to quickly. I have been very happy with the results using my 5 quart Dutch oven.
Add the liquid a little at a time and stir frequently. Add more liquid when all the liquid is absorbed but the rice and pan is not dry.
Use only freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano cheese. Parmesan is made from cow’s milk and is more mellow than Pecorino Romano cheese which is made from sheep’s milk. Pecorino Romano has a sharper and saltier taste compared to Parmesan. I use Romano interchangeably with Parmesan. (I actually prefer it especially with pasta.) You can find these cheeses near the deli section in your grocery store.
Do not overcook the risotto. Turn off the heat just before you believe it is done, just shy al dente. Similar to pasta the rice will continue to cook once the heat is turned off. You want the risotto to be perfect as you sit down to eat it.
As risotto cools it will begin to get thicker and dryer, like polenta. Risotto needs to be served immediately after it is done cooking.
Risotto does not mound up like regular rice or formed into molds. It should slowly spread across the plate as you spoon it on: not loose like soup, more like porridge or stew.
Risotto can be made using a variety of vegetables, shellfish, some meats like sausage, and herbs. Have fun coming up with your own variation.
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