Saturday, March 13, 2010

Build Your Own Risotto

When J and I first met, I subsisted largely on packets of instant oatmeal. My idea of cooking was boiling water for pasta, and I owned precisely one pot. J was quite appalled at not just my inability to cook, but also my disinterest in anything resembling a balanced diet. As soon as our relationship had progressed enough for him to take such liberties, he dragged me off to the grocery store to show me how to shop properly.

Since then, I've gained a full arsenal of kitchen gadgets, a discriminating palate, and the ability to do a bit more than just boil water. There is one recipe, however, that continued to elude me - risotto. J used to make it, but it looked so complicated that once I took over primary responsibility for cooking our meals, I never even attempted it. It wasn't until I decided to go rogue and ditched the recipe that the world of risotto opened up to me.

Risotto, I've found, is one of those dishes that doesn't really need a recipe. You just need to pay attention. It's relaxing to make and comforting to eat. Once you throw everything in the pot, all you need to do is stand there and stir, watching as the rice gradually releases its starch to create the creaminess characteristic of risotto. And the great thing about risotto is that you can throw just about anything in there and call it a meal. In the spring and summer we often grill salmon and asparagus for dinner. The next night, I take the leftovers and put them in risotto. In the winter, chicken breast and frozen peas make a great risotto. We also use shrimp from time to time. It can easily become a vegetarian dish just by eliminating the animal protein and increasing the veggies. I've seen, but have not yet tried, recipes for pumpkin and butternut squash risotto. Bottom line, risotto is a dish with infinite possibilities, and you don't need a recipe. All you need is imagination and watchful eyes.

olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
about 32-36 ounces of chicken or veggie broth, room temperature
about 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

protein of choice, about a half pound - I usually cook chicken breast in the pot with the garlic and onions, but with seafood I cook it separately and then add it in at the end.

veggie of choice, about one and a half cups - Frozen or fresh is fine, just don't put it in the pot too early or it will get mushy. The exception is something like broccoli, which takes longer to cook. Add that in after the first round of broth is absorbed. But veggies like asparagus, bell pepper, or peas need to be added at the end.

In a wide, deep skillet, gently heat the olive oil for a minute or two. If cooking chicken breast, add 2 or 3 cubed chicken breasts now, and allow them to cook for about 5-7 minutes on medium heat, turning them frequently so they begin to brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook a few minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the celery and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the arborio rice and about a third of the broth. This is where the serious watching and stirring begins. Bring the pot to a simmer.

Watch and stir, watch and stir. When the simmering liquid is mostly absorbed by the rice, add more broth. It is important that the broth not be cold, because if it's cold, it will prevent the rice from fully releasing its starch, and the starch is what makes the rice creamy. Watch and stir, watch and stir. Add more broth as the rice continues to absorb what's in the pot, until the rice is tender. Taste test the rice occasionally to keep a gauge on how much longer the rice might need. Once the rice seems almost tender enough to eat, but not quite there yet, add the veggies and cooked seafood if using. Also add salt and pepper at this point. Add more broth, watch and stir. Once the rice is tender, remove the pot from the heat and stir in about a half cup of parmesan cheese. Reserve the rest for sprinkling on top of the individual servings.

The quantities I've given will feed about 4 adults as a main dish, but everything can be easily adjusted to increase or decrease quantity. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need roughly 3 times as much broth as rice. Water can be used in a pinch. Enjoy!


  1. Well, that's a little heartening. I'd also always heard of risotto as being extremely difficult. I love it, though, so maybe, just maybe, I'll attempt this one day!

  2. Risotto is so simple, just time consuming. My favorites are peas and lemon zest or chopping up some sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil, then in the last 5 minutes throw in some chunks of Mozzarella! So Delish!

  3. Jamie,
    Would you email me at I'd like to discuss you being a guest blogger. I love your blog!