• Stir It Up: Easy-peasy risotto (sort of)
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     | April 25,2014
     
    Photo by Alan Richardson

    You don’t have to be an Italian chef to make this creamy risotto, filled with the flavors of spring vegetables and pungent with imported cheeses. The photo and recipe are from “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook” by Michele Scicolone.

    Michele Scicolone, author of “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook,” wants to dispel the myths about risotto: “Making it takes a long time; you have to stand over a hot pot and stir constantly; risotto is hard to make.”

    “Greatly exaggerated, I say,” she adds.

    Read her recipe closely, however, and you’ll find you are pretty much stuck in the kitchen. But there are worse places to be stuck. And she’s right: It doesn’t take a long time (35 minutes, tops), and you don’t have to stir “constantly” (only frequently).

    Bottom line? Making risotto is not hard. Like most dishes worth cooking, it requires attention. Pour a glass of wine, she says, and keep an eye on the pot.

    Her recipe “captures the essence of spring” with the flavors of asparagus, peas and scallions. But I think the secret is in the cheese. Italian fontina from the Aosta valley is much more pungent and earthy than that made in the United States, Denmark or Sweden, so try your best to find it. The highest-grade Parmesan cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, also will make a difference in the taste of the finished dish.

    As relatively easy as Scicolone’s dish is, my family’s recipe is even easier. Arborio rice was hard to come by in the 1930s when my dad’s family emigrated to the United States. His mother made risotto with plain old white rice; my own mom used Uncle Ben’s. It requires virtually no attention once the broth has been added. But no one needs to know. Pour yourself that glass of wine, put on some good music, and practice hollering, “I’m busy stirring the risotto!” if anyone tries to interrupt. It’s the cook’s reward.



    Spring Risotto

    Yield: 6 servings

    12 ounces asparagus, woody stems trimmed

    5 cups vegetable or chicken broth

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    1 medium onion, finely chopped

    4 scallions, chopped

    1½ cups short-grain rice, such as arborio

    ½ cup dry white wine, at room temperature

    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    1 cup freshly shelled or thawed frozen peas

    1 cup grated Fontina Valle d’Aosta

    1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano



    Cut the tips off the asparagus and set them aside. Chop the stalks into ½-inch pieces.

    In a medium saucepan, bring the broth just to a simmer. Turn the heat to low to keep warm.

    In a large, wide saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onion and cook until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in the scallions and cook 1 minute. Add the rice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until the rice is hot and coated. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it has evaporated; this will take a few minutes.

    Add the warm broth about ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently after each addition and waiting until each one is almost absorbed before adding more. Regulate the heat so the liquid remains at a simmer and the rice doesn’t dry out. After about 10 minutes, stir in the asparagus stems and continue cooking and adding broth. If you run out of liquid before the rice is done, add warm water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    When the risotto is almost ready — it will be firm yet tender to the bite and look creamy (16 to 18 minutes) — stir in the asparagus tips and peas. Cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the cheeses and let stand for 1 minute, then spoon the risotto into warm shallow bowls and serve.

    (Recipe from “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook,” by Michele Scicolone; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

    Calta Family Risotto

    Yield: 4 servings

    1 tablespoon olive oil

    1 medium onion, finely chopped

    1 chicken liver, finely chopped

    Several pieces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in water until soft (about ½ hour) and coarsely chopped to make about 2 tablespoons

    2 tablespoons tomato paste

    1 cup white rice

    2½ cups chicken broth

    1 to 2 tablespoons butter

    ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese



    Up to two hours before serving: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium heat, and add the onion, liver and mushrooms. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.

    Add tomato paste and rice. Stir the rice to coat and set the mixture aside until about 30 minutes before serving.

    In a separate pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the boiling broth to the rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Add the butter and Parmesan, stirring gently until butter is melted. Serve.

    (Recipe taught to me by my mother, Diana Calta, and my aunt, Antoinette Calta)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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