February 1st, 2010

Basic Risotto for Any Pantry Meal (& Carrot Risotto)

carrot risotto

Photo: Martha Stewart

I love risotto. (Who doesn’t?) Rich, creamy and endlessly versatile, it can be made to suit most any occasion, winter, spring, summer or fall. But despite this, risotto has a reputation for being a special occasion dish. Even I fall victim to this, sometimes thinking that it’ll take too much time or is unnecessarily fussy for a quick weeknight meal. I was recently reminded, though, that risotto is as basic as it comes. The most simple version is made entirely of pantry staples including olive oil, onion, rice and broth. And, as a 2-pot dish that has about an 18 minute cooking time and can be fed to kids as young as 8+ months, I’d say it’s a PERFECT family meal.

There are many classic risottos: milanese made with beef stock and flavored simply with saffron; risotto al Barolo made with red wine; seafood risotto, sometimes made black by the ink of squid or cuttlefish; and mushroom risotto rich in umami flavor from rehydrated porcini mushrooms. But these are far from the whole of your options. In fact, since risotto can hold (and make delicious) a huge variety of added ingredients, I’ve come to think of my weeknight versions as kitchen sink meals. I start by checking the fridge for unused veggies and build from there, adding stock (chicken, beef or veggie), cheese (traditional parmesan and pecorino, or any cheese that melts easily like feta or fontina), and herbs and flavorings (anything from leftover chives to lemon zest to dried mint). Simple as that.

Remember the carrot sticks that never made it into my ChowBaby’s birthday spread? Well, they were aging in my fridge when I most recently decided to make risotto. Since carrots were the only veg I added to the rice, I replaced onions with shallots and added white wine for slightly more depth of flavor. The nutty sweetness of parmesan paired nicely with the carrots, also adding a balancing bite of salt. (I even added some frozen peas to my ChowBaby’s portion to ensure that he got plenty of veggies while we chomped on salad.)

So, re-think risotto! Keep a bag of arborio rice in your pantry along with olive oil, onions and stock. Put together with whatever veggies and cheese you have in the fridge, you’ll have a quick any night meal in no time.

Basic Risotto
(can be served to kids 8+ mos)

1/4 c organic olive oil
1 organic onion, chopped
1 c arborio rice
1/4 c white wine (optional)
6-8 c organic broth (usually chicken or vegetable)
1/2 c organic grated cheese (usually parmesan)
salt and pepper

1. Heat stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to lowest setting, keeping the broth hot but making sure that it doesn’t cook off.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. [This is where you'd add most veggies and other ingredients, like sausage or bacon, to personalize. You'd saute the ingredients until done before adding the rice. Some veggies, like mushrooms, are sometimes sauteed separately and added at the end, but on weeknights I add them here to keep this a 2 pot meal. Just be sure to cook off most of the liquid before adding rice. If necessary, you can always add another tablespoon or two of olive oil so that the rice won't stick.]

3. Add rice, stirring to make sure that all of the grains get coated with oil, and cook until rice begins to turn translucent, about another 2 minutes.

4. Add wine. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.

5. Begin adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly, waiting for each batch of broth to be about 3/4 absorbed before adding the next. (One way to tell if it’s time to add more broth: your spoon should leave a trail that holds for a moment as you drag it across the bottom of the pan.) Risotto is done when the rice is al dente—is should be cooked through but still be a little toothsome. You may not use all of the broth. In fact, towards the end of the cooking process—which should take about 18-20 minutes—you may want to taste along the way and begin adding broth in amounts less than a 1/2 cup.

6. Turn off heat. Stir in parmesan, salt and pepper. [You'd stir in zest and finishing herbs here, as well]

Carrot Risotto
(can be served to kids 8+ mos)

1/4 c organic olive oil
3 organic shallots chopped
4 organic carrots, cleaned and grated
1 c arborio rice
1/4 c white wine (optional)
6-8 c organic chicken broth
1/2 c organic grated parmesan
salt and pepper

  • In step 1 above, after sauteing onions until translucent, add carrots. Saute until soft, about a minute or so before adding rice and continuing as directed above.

9 Responses

  1. nicole says:

    thank you, you just solved my dinner dilemma for tomorrow…i even have mushrooms leftover from yesterday to add in.

  2. janelle says:

    SO happy you just posted this! I am wrapping up a post on mushroom risotto (which I made with my 14 year old son!). Maybe because we are living in Italy for just this year, risotto has become a regular, weekly meal. AND I made squash risotto when we celebrated our American THX!

  3. [...] that has my attention. Not to mention the same brainwaves: the same day we posted on the merits of making risotto a family staple! I find I am attracted to well-thought out, well-written sites. It is a great intro if you want to [...]

  4. Emily says:

    This looks delicious. I do love Risotto. I will definitely keep this in mind.

  5. [...] by following the links at  Simple Bites this weekend, I was inspired to try my hand at risotto once again. Or maybe I should quit while I’m ahead. Oh, the [...]

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  8. [...] meal in my house and should be in yours, too. The method is simple—here’s my recipe for basic risotto—and the dish is endlessly versatile. I cannot guarantee that you’ll end up with the perfect [...]

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