Sunday, February 23, 2014

Risotto with red wine

Were I a rich man, the headline above would read quite differently. "Risotto al Barolo" it would properly state, meaning that I (or maybe my private chef) had closely followed tradition by cracking open a bottle of perhaps Italy's most prestigious wine, poured it into a hot pan, and then watched it all evaporate!

I appreciate traditional cooking methods as much, if not more, than the next guy. But sorry, not gonna happen.

For this more modest version of the classic dish of the Piedmont region, I did use the proper grape, however: a Nebbiolo, which is the grape that is used to make Barolo. The bottle still set me back better than $20, but I'm cool with that. Cooking a $125 Barolo? Not so much.

This risotto is one of my favorites, actually. If you haven't yet tried it, I highly recommend giving it a go. With whatever decent red wine you're comfortable with evaporating.

Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan.

Add one very finely chopped large onion (or an equivalent amount of shallots) and saute under medium heat until softened but not browned.

Stir in 2.5 cups of Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli, Arborio, Baldo, or another risotto rice if you prefer) and allow the rice to warm all the way through. It's all right to "toast" the rice as well, meaning allow it to brown just a bit.

Stir in 3/4 cups of a good-quality red wine. As I said before, I used a Nebbiolo, but any good dry red should be fine.

On days that I know I'll be making risotto I always make sure to prepare plenty of homemade chicken stock (go with vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian). I keep a pot of simmering stock on the stovetop as I'm making the risotto; that way it's already at a high temperature when it's added to the rice. After the wine has evaporated, add a ladleful or two of your hot stock. In all, you'll probably need around 8-10 cups of stock to make the risotto, so make sure to have more than that on hand. I never use a store-bought stock to make risotto, either. It's better this way, and you can freeze whatever homemade stock that you don't use. Besides, having a stock going makes the house smell good for hours and hours, so why deprive yourself of such pleasure?

Stir the mixture occasionally, and each time the stock has evaporated add another ladleful. At around the 12-minute mark start to pull back on how much stock you add, because you don't want the risotto to be soupy. (If the risotto isn't looking as colorful as you'd like, you can add more wine with the stock.) After around 15 minutes, check to see if the rice is nearly cooked; it ought to be. Stop adding more stock and allow whatever liquid that remains to gradually evaporate. The rice should be al dente, not soft.

This cooked for around 17 minutes total, from the time the first couple ladles of stock were added. As you can see, the risotto is moist but not dry.

Turn down the heat to low and add around 5 tablespoons of cold butter that's been cut into small cubes. Stir the butter into the rice very quickly.

Once the butter has melted add around a cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the risotto immediately, topped with a little more grated cheese.

Oh, and if there does happen to be a nice bottle of Barolo in the vicinity, well, now might be a good time to crack it open. It's gotta get drunk sometime, right?

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