For many home cooks, making a successful risotto can seem like an unattainable goal. So often, people get frustrated with the dish to the point of culinary surrender. Executive Chef John Coletta, who helms the kitchen of Chicago’s beloved Quartino, has simplified the risotto-making process for anyone who wants to get cooking.
Though risotto has a reputation for being high-maintenance and time-consuming, it doesn’t take more than a 30 minutes to make. Risotto is more of a technique than a dish, so once you get a feel for the basic steps of the process, you can customize it to your liking. Or, if you’re just getting started and you want a more structured game plan, use Coletta’s favorite Risotto with Zucchini, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Shrimp.
Though it might be tempting to pick up a specialty risotto pan from your local kitchen appliance shop, you can make risotto with any copper or stainless steel vessel. “The pot should be a sauce pan at least two inches in height,” said Coletta. “Using a risotto spoon is also key. The hole in the center of the spoon provides room for rice to pass through it as the risotto is stirred.” This allows for a smoother, creamier end result, especially if you can find a spoon made from authentic beach wood. If not,
Cooking risotto becomes time consuming because of the measuring, chopping and dicing that happens before you even turn on the stove. Measure, chop and organize your ingredients while you warm your broth in a saucepan on the stove. Be sure to select the highest quality ingredients available to you, including the specialty risotto rice.
“Carnaroli riso is the most versatile and very accessible at your local specialty grocery,” said Coletta. Usually Whole Foods, or its local equivalent, will have a well stocked ethnic foods section where you can find what you need. “Arborio riso, also pretty ubiquitous at the grocery store, is best in the preparation of soups or frying.”
Be sure to select a very good natural broth made from meat, fish or vegetables and choose wine that you would drink, not just a cooking wine. “Select a good Italian wine, because a low quality wine will result in low quality risotto,” said Coletta.
Also known as “mirepoix” mix (think: onions, celery, carrots, spices). This is the flavor base of your risotto which almost always includes onions, but also any other aromatics, spices, or ingredients you like. Sauté these ingredients in a healthy amount of butter or olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to break down.
Pour the rice into the soffrito and stir until every grain is coated with fat. “Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil is required for the best results when toasting the risk,” said Coletta. This is where things stay hands-on: you need to continue stirring the rice until the edges have turned translucent but the center is still opaque. You’ll start to smell the aroma of toasted rice when you’re ready to move onto the next step.
Deglazing the pan with a splash of white wine will help to add another layer of flavor and lift any bits that have caramelized to the pan. If you opt to take this step, use about 1/2 cup or so of wine and simmer until the wine has completely reduced (evaporated) and the pan is practically dry.
Begin incrementally adding the warm broth to the rice mixture one ladle at a time. Once the ladle of liquid has been absorbed by the rice almost completely, you can add more. Adding liquid gradually is key to getting the rice to release its starch, creating a delicious sauce. If your ladle is big, imagine that you want to add just enough broth to cook the rice with no excess.
Begin tasting the rice after about 12 minutes to gauge how far it has cooked. “The risotto is ready when the rice grains do not contain their white inner souls,” said Coletta. “Al dente is the goal.” The rice should still have a bit of chew and the dish, overall should have the consistency of a thick porridge.
As a final step, add one more ladle of broth to the risotto, plus one or two tablespoons of butter and up to one cup of cheese to enrich the risotto and make it extra-creamy. Serve the risotto immediately. The longer it stands, the more the starches will set and you’ll lose the creamy silkiness. “The risotto waves known as all’onda indicate you have properly executed the perfect balance,” said Coletta.
- 5 cups basic vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup finely minced white onion
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- Sea salt and white pepper, to taste
- 1½ cup Carnaroli riso (suggested: Acquerello brand)
- ½ cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
- 1 cup shelled peas (fresh or frozen)
- ⅔ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon Extra Virgin olive oil
- 1 cup shrimp (look for 21/25 ct. peeled; deveined; split)
- ⅛ cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Sea salt and white pepper, to taste
- In a heavy bottom pot bring the vegetable broth to a simmer and insert a 2 ounce ladle into the pot.
- In another heavy bottom pot add the olive oil, onion, garlic and place over a medium flame. Stir this mixture using a wooden spoon until it becomes translucent and tender. Season to taste.
- Add the carnaroli riso and continue to stir using the wooden spoon for a brief minute. Add the white wine and simmer until the wine is almost evaporated.
- Add the peas and sun-dried tomatoes and stir continuously.
- Gradually add a ladle of the vegetable broth with one hand and stir using a wooden spoon with the other hand. Continue to cook this mixture until the vegetable broth has been absorbed by the rice kernels. Reduce the flame to low and continue this process which should take 18 minutes. It is very, very important to stir the rice during the entire cooking process.
- Place a heavy bottom pan onto a medium flame. Add the shrimp and wine and simmer until almost cooked. Allow this mixture to rest until needed for service.
- Once the rice arrives at the al dente stage which is firm to the bite, remove the pot from the stove and add the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and continue to stir. A creamy consistency will begin to form. Adjust seasoning. Place the risotto onto a plate and top with the cooked shrimp and serve at once.