Even back when I was working 12-14 hour days, this was a quick and easy starch to go with our dinners. And no, I haven’t been nipping the cooking wine, at least not until I start stirring. Seriously, except for dicing the onion, you can make this entire dish while sipping a cocktail in one a hand and desultorily stirring the risotto with the other. The most important things to keep in mind for painless risotto is:
1) Keep a pot of simmering broth on the stove behind the burner you’re using for the risotto pan so you can easily dump a ladleful into the risotto cuz it’s actually the simmering broth that cooks the risotto, plumping up those short fat grains into tender toothy rice.
2) While you do need to stir it frequently, most of the work occurs in the last 5 minutes when most of the starches have leached out of the risotto creating a creamy but sticky liquidy matrix that can get stuck to the bottom of your pan. The physical stirring is also what separates the starches from the rice allowing them to create that characteristic creamy sticky texture of risotto.
3) Not just any old rice will do. Since you want a creamy, glutinous rice mixture at the end, you need to use rice that will absorb broth while releasing its starches. That said, this won’t work with low starch, long grain rice like jasmine.
This classic Milanese style risotto uses saffron which is actually the pistil of a flower. Just a pinch ~ 20 threads is sufficient for most recipes using saffron. Unless you’re making paella, the most common technique to release flavor from saffron is to expose it to moisture, like adding it to broth. And just like many of my favorite dishes, risotto is super versatile and can go from being a supporting actor to the main character. Blanch some veggies, say porcini mushrooms, asparagus and summer squash, in the conveniently simmering broth +/- saffron and you can easily transform this side dish into risotto prima vera, a dinner in itself :).
1 1/2 c arborio rice (or any glutinous short grain rice)
1 pinch saffron threads
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/4 c dry white wine (ie Chardonnay)
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
5 c low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 c shredded parmesan
In a 2-3 quart pot bring broth to a simmer then lower heat to maintain at a simmer ~ med-lo. Crumble saffron threads with your fingers as you add it to the stock.
In a large sauté pan or, skillet with a wide 2-3 inch lip, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat till foam subsides ~ 1 minute. Sauté onions till soft and golden ~ 2-3 minutes. Increase heat to med-hi and mix in rice till coated with butter and oil. Sauté for 1-2 minutes which will toast it and add to the flavor (you may notice a nutty aroma as the rice toasts).
Add wine and stir till evaporated. Pour in 1/2 c of broth and stir into rice till all of the broth is absorbed by the rice. Continue with remaining broth, 1/2 c at a time, till rice is tender ~ 20 minutes. As the rice cooks it will plump up as it absorbs the broth and releases its starches creating a sticky liquidy matrix. Classically risotto should have a thick liquidy consistency when finished so that it will slowly spread over a plate, not clump together like mashed potatoes but not to worry, this can be fixed with a few tbsp of broth. If your rice is still too firm and you’ve run out of broth just add simmering water 1/2 c at a time as you did with the broth.
Remove from heat and stir in parmesan. Many classic preparations also have you add a couple tbsp of butter at this point but I feel it tastes plenty rich without. Sadly, my saffron risotto has only a light yellow hue instead of the dramatic yellow you sometimes see (which always makes me wonder [Cough, food color! Cough.]) but luckily it tastes yummy. Makes 4 servings.