I’ll never forget the first time I experienced risotto. My tale of this rich rice dish begins in Europe. While living in Italy as a naive, adventurous, wide-eyed enthusiast, I had energy for days to explore this foreign land. I wanted to soak up every moment, every landmark, every person, and every taste. I walked this wonderland 10-12 hours a day as if I were a five year old experiencing Disneyland for the first time. This magical aura never seemed to fade in the four months I traveled. As November approached, I experienced Autumn for the first time. The forty degree weather became a norm but my mission to explore never ceased.
After trekking through the rainy coastline of Cinque Terre with my boyfriend (now husband) my stomach became a voracious tiger ready to consume anything in sight. We sat down at a quaint Italian trattoria as the only two guests brave enough to visit during the off-season. As I continued to shiver even with the fire blazing, I realized that pasta and marinara sauce wouldn’t suffice. I scanned the one page menu and stumbled upon a risotto dish. With my weak Italian skills, I gathered enough to comprehend the creamy and rich descriptors. Done and done!
With each bite, a warmth trailed through my chest stronger than any clam chowder I’d ever experienced. The hunger ceased to harass my body, my internal temperature stabilized, and I finally started partaking in conversation with my better half. I remember the incomparable satisfaction and wondered if I would ever be able to re-create this masterpiece. Tonight, I bring the secrets of this bland to grand transformation of rice to your table.
A few concepts to keep in mind. The basis for every risotto consists of butter, olive oil, shallots/onions, and garlic. Herbs play a major role in infusing flavor. My favorites to use in any risotto are thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Keep this in mind: NEVER WALK AWAY FROM YOUR RISOTTO! Chicken stock is slowly added and absorbed… your job is to continuously stir with a wooden spoon to avoid burning the rice. Choose your veggie. Mushrooms, asparagus, and squash are just a few… if using a green veggie, wait until the very end to add. Also, if you are making an extra large batch, definitely add the vegetable at the end or else you will get a mush similar in appearance to oatmeal. Carefully consider your meat pairing as well. I love slow braised meats. For Christmas this year, we ate a slow cooked prime rib with butternut squash, delicioso! Picture of this risotto served in roasted acorn squash bowls above.
Tonight, I made a quick fix risotto and chicken plate. Mushroom risotto with a slow cooked marsala chicken breast soothed my soul like hot cocoa during a snow storm. I lightly dusted the poultry with flour to help absorb the marsala wine. As a Campbells soup commercial would say, this meat is mmm mmm good! The tenderness from a slow saute transforms this meat into chicken candy.
As a wine pairing, I would drink a Barbera from Piedmont Italy. In keeping with this Northern Italian inspired dish, this hearty red has a rustic component that will bring out the earthiness in the mushrooms. For a stateside recommendation, Pinot Noir from the west coast has a spiciness that will compliment the herbs.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion or shallots
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp each of dried rosemary and thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 cup arborio rice (found with pastas in Italian section of grocery store)
- roughly 16 oz of good chicken stock
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Heat deep saucepan to medium. Add olive oil, garlic, and onion. Saute for a few minutes. Add in seasonings, mushrooms, and butter. Saute for a few minutes. Add arborio rice and saute for a few more minutes. Slowly add in chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time until absorbed. Continuously mix with a wooden spoon. After about 30 to forty minutes, taste test. If the crunchiness has subsided, add parmesan and serve.
- 2 chicken breasts tenderized with meat pounder
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to season
- 4 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp per side
- 1/4 cup marsala wine
- dried herbs: rosemary and thyme to coat each side
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
In a saute pan, heat stove top to medium. Heat oil. Dust chicken with flour and season with spices. Bronze each side for about 3 minutes. Lower heat, add marsala, and cover. After a marsala is almost completely absorbed, add stock. Continue to simmer until juices run clear through the meat, about 20 minutes total. Serve with risotto and garnish with Parmesan.