Risotto is one of the dishes in my arsenal that I love to teach. I seem to forget about it as one of my personal favorites until fall rolls around and I’m really hankering for something thick and rich to pack on the requisite sweater weather weight. A few weeks ago, a couple I was doing a private class for requested a mushroom risotto. So I wrote up a recipe and then held their hand as they slowly added the stock, cup by cup, until all the starchy goodness was coaxed from every last grain.
The worst part of teaching is when, after all that love and hard work and delicious smells, you have to leave. After this particular class, I ordered Thai takeout en route to my apartment, and it was one of the sadder meals in recent memory. Ever since that night I’ve been craving mushroom risotto with a fiery passion. Luckily, I had some friends over for dinner early last week and in addition to trying out this cauliflower recipe in preparation for my Food52 shoot, I also got to made a big vat of it.
Risotto is one of those intimidating dishes that’s actually really simple. What makes it scary is that a recipe won’t really help you because so much of the process depends on instinct and feel. That’s why I like to teach it. But the basic concept is taking a high-starch grain (traditionally Arborio rice) and toasting it in oil so that it maintains its shape during the slow cooking process. Then, you allow the grains to gradually absorb stock, one cup at a time, until they’ve released their starches and become tender.
When I’m entertaining, I’ll follow this process until the grains are al dente with just a little bit of bite. Then right before my guests arrive, or while everyone is drinking wine, I’ll finish it off with the last cup of stock. You don’t want the dish to be heavy or gluey – like what I imagine they’d serve at the Olive Garden. There should be a good amount of liquid left at the end of the process so that the risotto spreads out on a plate instead of perching like a hockey puck in the middle of it.
I’ve been enjoying leftover mushroom risotto for the last week and have nearly kicked my craving. Hopefully by this point, my sweaters still fit.