For the longest time, I loathed making risotto. It wasn’t that it was difficult – stirring, the primary activity required by risotto recipes, is not exactly rocket science. It was that the rice seemed to take so long to get tender, if it ever got tender at all.
My mistakes were twofold. The first, and most important, was setting the heat too high. Making risotto requires sautéing arborio rice in butter or oil – with onions or shallots and sometimes other vegetables – and then gradually stirring in stock, waiting for each addition to be absorbed into the rice before adding the next. This simultaneously suffuses the rice with flavor and coaxes the starch out of it, giving the dish its signature creaminess. But if the heat’s too high, the liquid will evaporate instead of being sopped up by the rice.
Keep the heat somewhere between medium-low and medium – just high enough so the stock bubbles gently when you’re not stirring.
My second mistake was expecting the rice to turn out perfectly soft. Risotto should be al dente, like pasta, with each grain offering a little resistance to your teeth. And I prefer to keep the dairy content of my risotto in check, using olive oil instead of butter and not going completely overboard with high-fat cheese. You must add at least some Parmesan, but balance it out with soft, relatively lean goat cheese.
It can be tricky to decide what vegetables to add to it, and when. Mushrooms are a no-brainer because they’re the Jimmy Buffett of the produce aisle, superbly laid-back. You can simmer them with rice for five minutes or two hours, and their texture won’t suffer one bit. Peas are another good risotto add-in, for the opposite reason: They take only a few minutes to cook through, so you can just throw them into the pot once the rice is already done.
Mushroom and Pea Risotto
6 cups vegetable, chicken or mushroom stock
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
12 ounces fresh mushrooms, preferably a mixture, trimmed and thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
1a cups arborio rice
a cup dry white wine
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
4 ounces goat cheese
a cup grated Parmesan cheese
a cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
Zest and juice of a lemon
Put the stock in a medium pot over low heat. Meanwhile, put 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
When it’s hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the mushrooms’ liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the rice and stir until it dries out and begins to stick together, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring once or twice, until it’s mostly absorbed into the rice.
Begin adding the warm stock, about ½ cup at a time, waiting until each addition is mostly absorbed into the rice before adding the next. Stir frequently, and adjust the heat so the liquid simmers gently.
When the rice is plump and tender, after about 30 minutes of adding the stock, add the peas along with an additional 1 cup stock or water and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low and stir in the goat cheese and Parmesan cheese.
Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the parsley, and the lemon zest and juice.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot, garnished with additional parsley.
(Leftover risotto keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.)