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FRESH and Festive: Risotto

Risotto is the ultimate comfort food and in my opinion, it is more of a technique than a dish. While many home cooks are intimidated by the thought of preparing a risotto at home, it truly is the tastiest when it is served right off the stove. Once you get a feel for the basic steps of making it, it is sure to be one of your “go to” meals all year-round.

There are a few ground rules to consider when making risotto.  Once you get these squared away in your mind, the best thing to do is practice, practice, practice.

Here are the basics:
Get all of your ingredients handy and have the broth warming on the stove so that it is ready when you need it.  The first step is creating the flavor base for the risotto.  This is typically done by sautéing onions and/or garlic and herbs in butter or olive oil until translucent.

Add your rice to the flavor base and stir to toast the grains.  By the way, you MUST use short-grain rice.  The most common is Arborio.  Toasting the rice first creates a coating that allows the grains to absorb water but prevents them from turning to mush.  The edges of the grains should be translucent.

Add wine first and cook until absorbed.  Then start adding warm broth.  For best results, use a flavorful homemade or good quality, low sodium store bought stock.  Add a ladle of broth and stir until absorbed.  Then repeat. Stir constantly to help the rice release the starch.  Taste the risotto frequently and season as necessary.  You want the rice to cook until it is al dente.  At that point, you can add in a bit more butter and a sprinkling of cheese for even more richness.

I know many recipes say “let stand before serving,” but take this seriously when making risotto.  Allowing it to rest for about 5 minutes makes a huge difference in flavor and texture.  You can add caramelized onions, ribbons of Swiss chard, bits of sausage, wild mushrooms, or any other combination of flavors and textures that suit your fancy. You can even play around with using grains other than rice for making the risotto itself. Farro, an ancient Italian wheat grain, adds a pleasant chewiness. The farro will remain perfectly springy and al dente, creating a nice contrast to other softer textures likely present in the dish.  Check out the recipe below to get you started.

Easy Farro Risotto

2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup farro
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs butter or olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving

In saucepan heat stock to boiling. Add farro and stir to combine. Lower heat to medium.

Meanwhile, sauté onions and garlic in butter or olive oil till translucent and just turning brown. Remove from heat.

Continue to cook farro until stock has mostly evaporated and farro is softened, about 20 minutes. (The proper texture is slightly chewy.) Add onions, garlic and cheese; stir to combine. To serve, top with additional grated cheese.

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