Foodstuff: Grandma’s Cozy Risotto Recipe
Transitioning to cozy weather food as the temperatures dip
I just made my final farmers-market visit of the season this past weekend (sniff, sniff), and, while the leaves turned golden a little later than usual this year, my hiking in long sleeves indicates fall is officially, absolutely in the air. Some of my favorite summer vegetables are still making an appearance on my plate, but it’s time to transition to a versatile way of cooking that can incorporate those lingering zucchini, as well as some heartier fare.
We didn’t have this dish very often at home when I was growing up, but, once I moved out on my own in my early 20s, risotto became a go-to recipe in my cooking repertoire. I’ve definitely improved on it over the years, as my palate has become more sophisticated (read: old), adding all kinds of ingredients throughout the seasons to give it a little variety. It’s also kind of a showstopper for entertaining, as it feeds several people (heartily), and it seems difficult. The big secret? It’s actually quite easy to make. All it requires is a little patience — and I have very little patience, so it can’t possibly be that bad. Just set aside some time for watching and stirring the pot. You’ll have time to do that now as the darkness sets in a bit earlier, the chill blankets the evenings and the shoulder season gets into full swing.
This version is another recipe from my grandmother, Toni Capasso’s cookbook, “You Take a Little Oil and Fry Onions…” (Martel Publishing Company, 1983). If you’ve been reading my columns, you know I’ve referenced her book before, and this is one of the classics in it. I’ve made this recipe so many times over so many years, I have it memorized.
2 ounces butter, halved*
One small onion, diced**
1 cup arborio rice
6 tablespoon dry white wine
5 cup chicken stock***
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Heat 1 ounce of butter in a saucepan over low heat and sauté onion until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add rice and stir until it is well coated with the butter. Add wine and cook until almost evaporated.
Add hot stock in three or four installments, adding more as the previous addition is absorbed completely. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring now and then. The risotto is ready when the rice is creamy, but firm. Stir in remaining butter and cheese and turn off the heat. Serve immediately, grating more cheese over the top to taste.
*My grandmother used 4 tablespoons of butter, but I only use two. If you’d like to try it my way, use the first tablespoon to sauté the onion with another one tablespoon of olive oil. Use the second pat of butter to finish the rice alongside the grated cheese.
**I also add a clove of garlic, crushed and minced, just before the onion turns translucent.
***This is equivalent to one of those boxes at the grocery store, or you can make your own. Be sure to gently warm the stock in a separate pot while cooking the onion, so it’s not cold when added to the rice. For a totally-vegetarian version, vegetable stock works well; just add a bit of salt to taste once the rice is done cooking.
As I mentioned, I do a lot of different things with risotto, adding vegetables and/or seafood most often. My latest batch included the last-of-the-season cherry tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash and oyster mushrooms, with a squeeze of lemon juice and lemon zest grated over the top to serve.
I’ve also made it with shrimp, scallops, lobster and even with a teaspoon of saffron added — right at the end of the cooking time — for a very traditional, vibrantly yellow, Milanese-style risotto. The trick to adding extras is to precook the vegetables and proteins in a little bit of olive oil, then toss them in at the same time as you pour in the last cup of hot stock.
Another variation is to add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste alongside the onions when they’re about halfway through cooking, before adding the rice, which turns the rice a beautiful pink color and infuses it with a deep tomato and umami flavor. That version pairs very well with shrimp and zucchini. It feels very rich and luxurious, even with that small amount of butter and cheese, as the starches released from the rice make this a decadent dinner dish.
So, grab a post-hike leaf peeping glass of wine, invite some friends over and settle in; it’s cozy time.
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who will miss the farmers’ market immensely but is taking full advantage of rich food and sweatpants-clad evenings at home. It’s all very glamorous. She can be reached via her marketing and communications firm, Carington Creative, at email@example.com