Friday, January 15, 2016

Reimagining Risotto, Budget Style

I love gnocchi. And risotto. And polenta. And just about all the traditional Italian food that my parents would occasionally make and that I would gorge on when visiting relatives in Italy. However, a lot of it is a little bit time intensive when I'm cooking just for myself. I just had a cousin visit from Italy, however, and that's inspired me to get off my (figurative) ass and actually have something other than an egg burrito or aglio olio for lunch.

Happily, while a little time intensive, most traditional Italian recipes are also cheap. That helps. They are also flexible, and you can usually substitute some ingredients for others. I usually make risotto alla Milanese, since that's what my mom always made, but when my cousin was here he made a great version that used the veggies I had in my fridge and red wine instead of white. Very easy, and the most expensive ingredient was the arborio rice, which can be bought at places like Whole Foods pretty affordably.

Simple Risotto:

Chop up a stalk of celery, half an onion, and half a carrot pretty fine. Start to fry them up in olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet, but not cover the veggies).  Add a little chopped garlic if desired. If you have other non-mushy veggies in the house, throw them in too. Things like mushrooms should be added a little later, since they cook so much faster.

After a few minutes, add in the rice. I made enough for two people, which is about half a pound. Fry that up for another 2-3 minutes. This will allow the flavor of the veggies to really get into the rice.

Start pouring in whatever wine you've got. My cousin used some Trader Joe red wine, which was great because we were then able to finish the bottle with dinner. Add a generous splash, the equivalent of a large shot or small wine glass.  Measurements don't need to be precise.

Let that all soak in. Stir occasionally to keep any rice/veggies from sticking to the pot.  Now the rice will have flavor from the veggies and the wine.

Once the rice has absorbed almost all the wine, start to slowly add broth. My cousin used beef broth from Whole Foods. I made it again later that week and used vegetable broth. I'll admit the beef broth had more flavor, but if you jazz up some basic veggie broth it should be fine too. Chicken broth is fine as well - whatever your preference is.  Add a ladle full at a time. The rice should never be swimming in liquid. Stir every minute or two. If the broth is bland add some basic spices and salt/pepper. This is where the majority of the final taste will come from, so make it good.

After a few ladle-fulls of broth you should see that the rice is looking more cooked, and softer. Go ahead and try a small spoonful to check if it's ready. It should be soft and creamy without being mushy. If it's just a tiny bit al dente, that's ok too since when it's time to turn off the stove you can add one final ladle of broth and then let it rest a few minutes.

Grate some Parmesan cheese in. How much depends on how much you like it. Don't go too crazy though - if all you taste is cheese you won't taste the rice itself. Stir it in. You can grate a bit more on for decoration when it's time to serve.

And you're done! Like I said, the most expensive part of the dish is the rice itself, or maybe the wine if you don't already have some in the house. But since you only use a little wine there's plenty left over to drink.  Traditional risotto usually uses white wine but the vegetable risotto my cousin made for me with red was delicious. 

Not a usually food blogger - excuse the crappy photo. 


  1. I love risotto, too, but rarely make it because it generally requires too long to babysit it. I'll have to try this ... thanks!

  2. I hadn't made it in a while either, so watching my cousin inspired me. It's easier then I remembered!