I grew up in a large Italian family, eating a lot of great food – fresh home-made tomato sauce, all kinds of macaroni (we never called it pasta) and other dishes from southern Italy where my family has its roots.
A popular Italian dish that never found its way to our table was risotto. That’s because risotto in more common in the northern regions of Italy and frankly, my grandfather didn’t like rice so my grandmother never cooked it. It wasn’t until I started cooking professionally and worked in higher-end restaurants that I learned to make risotto.
In this country, you’re much more likely to find risotto on the menu of a fine restaurant than in the average home kitchen. Risotto has a reputation for being difficult to cook. It’s not; it’s just rice. It is, however, time-consuming, and a dish that you have to watch closely; you can’t just put it on the stove and walk away.
Cooking in restaurants, I learned a few tricks to make risotto that is perfect every time, but in a more time-efficient way. By doing much of the recipe ahead, you can finish it a la minute, just as your guests are arriving, impressing them with your culinary skills. Read the recipe below to see what I mean.
I’ll be demonstrating how to make lobster risotto at noon tomorrow, Saturday Oct. 14, in the FRESH Taste Kitchen, during the Italy Food Fight that’s part of our global flavor fest. Come watch the demo, maybe try a bite and then stick around to see how we use this risotto to make another regional Italian favorite – arancini, little risotto fritters stuffed with Bolognese sauce.
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced fennel
2 cups risotto rice
1 cup of white wine
5 to 5.5 cups Lobster Broth (recipe to follow)
4 Tbs unsalted butter (half a stick)
1 Tbs sliced chives
Meat from 1 lobster (1 1/2 pound live weight)
Heat the stock to a boil and reduce the heat to low to keep it at a slight simmer.
In a wide heavy-bottom pan with sloped sides (sloped sides are better than straight but not essential) over med-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and fennel and cook until translucent, but do not allow to brown.
Add the white wine and gently stir in the rice with a small spoon, preferably wooden but definitely not metal. Reduce the heat so the wine is at a gentle simmer.
Stir occasionally while the wine is simmering.
Allow the wine to almost completely cook away.
Add a third of the stock to the pan with the rice, about 2 quarts, and stir the rice to loosen the grains and release the starch. Since the stock is hot it should quickly come to a simmer. Continue to gently stir the rice as the stock simmers.
Allow the stock to almost completely cook away.
Add half of the remaining stock and continue to stir while the rice simmers.
Gently stirring the rice will release the starches evenly and not damage the grains. If you damage the grains, the broken grains will be overcooked and mushy, while the solid grains will be undercooked, resulting in a crunchy but gummy risotto.
If not serving until later, stop here: When the second addition of stock has cooked away, this is a very good stopping point. You can cool the par-cooked rice and reserve the remaining stock and other ingredients and finish the risotto right before your meal. At this point there is only about 10-15 min from pan to table.
To finish: Add half of the remaining stock and continue to stir the rice. At this point the rice should start to show a creaminess. When the stock is almost gone taste the rice and it should be firm but cooked. Add half of the remaining stock and stir it into the rice, add the lobster meat and continue stirring.
Season with salt and white pepper. Add the butter and chives and stir to melt and blend. The rice should be thick, creamy and flow like a cake batter, not rice in a sauce.
Shells and body of one 1 1/2 pound lobster
1/2 yellow onion
1/2 fennel bulb
1 celery stalk
2 thyme sprigs
2 tarragon sprigs
1 bay leaf
8 quarts of cold water
Peel the onion. Rough chop the onion, fennel and celery. Add everything to a pot and gently simmer until the water reduces to about 6 quarts.