I associate risotto with summer, even though it is the kind of hot, cooked, starchy, stodgy dish that flies best in winter. Maybe it’s because of its similarity to risi e bisi, the Venetian springtime favorite… maybe because it’s so good with peppers or zucchini or other summer garden vegetables… and certainly in part because last summer when I first met Sparks’ friends Jonathan and Laura, risotto was always on Laura’s menu.
I have a generic formula for risotto, and make it into any number of different dishes by adding different things to it. A couple of cups of shredded zucchini–a quart of sliced mushrooms–a cup of peas–a cup of pumpkin puree–cream and lemon zest–roasted and pureed red peppers–the possibilities of risotto are endless. You can even cook shrimp or other seafood into it, to make it into a well-rounded meal. Here’s my formula:
On a back burner, heat up 6 cups of water with two chicken bouillon cubes.
Finely dice one onion. Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying or sautee pan, and add the diced onion and one cup of either arborio (traditional) or sushi (emergency subsitute) rice. Stir to get everything coated in oil and to partially cook the onion. If you are using a raw vegetable (as opposed to a cooked puree, or lemon zest and cream), add it to the pan at this point.
Now, add two big soup ladles of bouillon to the pan. Stir a little to distribute things evenly, and either stand over it stirring (as I did when I was a risotto newbie) or boldly walk away for a few minutes while the liquid absorbs.
Repeat this process until the rice is no longer chalky in the center. I usually start to taste the rice after the third round of bouillon, to see how it’s coming along.
When the rice is cooked, add from one to three tablespoons of butter and about half a cup of shredded parmesan or romano cheese and stir. If you are using a cooked vegetable puree or lemon zest and cream, add it at this point. Salt to taste, and pepper to taste (I like risotto heavily peppered, to balance the starchy creaminess). Enjoy!
Mmm–zucchini risotto with pulled pork barbecue and okra pickles. Yes please.