Making a risotto was considered challenging a few decades back. Now America has mastered the technique and is truly enjoying the versatility of risotto, which can be served alongside seasonal vegetables, beneath a piece of perfectly cooked fish or poultry, or enjoyed as the main course. This recipe makes a simple but delicious risotto alla Parmigiana, but you can flavor it by adding your favorite vegetables, shrimp or tomato or meat sauce that you might have on hand or use the recipes that follow. On the other hand, if you want to do something more elaborate, I recommend Risotto alla Milanese, made with saffron and beef marrow, which came from my trip to Lombardy while researching Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy.
5 to 7 cups water of tasty broth
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups (about 10 ounces) chopped onion, medium-fine
1 cup of chopped shallots
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cups short-grained Italian rice, either Arborio, or Carnaroli
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1½ cups freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pour the stock into a large pot and bring it almost to a boil. Cover and keep it hot over very low heat, on a burner close to the risotto pan.
Put the oil, onions, shallots and half of the salt in a large pan and set over medium heat. Cook the onions slowly, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, as they sweat, soften and gradually take on a golden color, 8 to 10 minutes.
Ladle 1/2 cup of the hot stock into the onions, stir well, and continue to cook the onions over low to medium heat, for another 5 to 10 minutes, when the onions should be completely golden and glistening and the stock has evaporated.
When the onions are completely devoid of stock, add the rice all at once, raise the heat to medium heat and stir constantly with the onions. Cook for about 3 minutes until the rice grains have been toasted but do not allow them to scorch or color.
Pour in the wine all at once and cook with the rice for 2 to 3 minutes, over medium heat. Stir constantly all around the pan, until the moisture has evaporated. Have the hot stock close by and be ready to add it with a ladle or measuring cup.
For the first addition, ladle in 1 ½-2 cups of the very hot stock, enough to barely cover the rice; stir it in continuously, all around the pan. Add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir well. Lower the heat, if necessary, to maintain a very gentle perking.
After the addition of at least 5 cups of stock, you can taste and gauge the degree of doneness of the rice kernels and the fluidity of the creamy suspension. At any time that you find the rice grains pleasantly al dente and the risotto creamy you can choose to stop cooking. Or you may incorporate more stock, up to about 7 cups total, if you want a softer, looser risotto. When you are satisfied, turn off the heat.
Stir frequently at first and then constantly as the risotto thickens. Make sure the spoon is reaching in all the corners of the pan, so everything is constantly being stirred. When all the stock has been absorbed, the risotto is harder to stir—the bubbling sounds thicker too—and the pan bottom is visible, ladle in another cup of water. (If you are flavoring your risotto with a sauce, stir it in at this point, before the second addition of stock.)
Cook, stirring always, and add another 2 cups of stock when the risotto is ready for it, as just described—anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes between additions. Keep track of how much liquid you have added.
Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Stir in grated cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste, whisking all with a wooden spoon. When nice and creamy, serve the risotto immediately in heated bowls, with more grated cheese at the table.