It’s about time, as this elegant dish is the most popular rice in Italy. We say “rice,” and thoughts immediately turn to tasteless white fluff, overcooked to glue. Risotto wipes out our rice nightmares.

It seems that any local restaurant worth a gift card is serving risotto. It’s about time, as this elegant dish is the most popular rice in Italy.

We say “rice,” and thoughts immediately turn to tasteless white fluff, overcooked to glue. Risotto wipes out our rice nightmares.

It’s an incredibly creative dish born of the Italian disgust for anything bland. They use it as a primo (first) course to meals. There are hundreds of regional variations, and you’re certainly invited to invent your own.

Your goal is rich and creamy but with an al dente bite. The grains must be separate and never glued together, never crunchy.

You can improve on most restaurant risotto. The dish must be eaten instantly after preparation. Otherwise, it will overcook in its own heat. Some chefs try to make risotto ahead of time, due to its time-consuming stirring. That is its bane, as the grains become glutinous.

The creamy texture comes from the short-grain rice, called Arborio or “pearl,” especially grown for risotto. In America, Arborio rice is often labeled as “risotto.”

The cooking process explains why Italian chefs have massive biceps. Figure at least 20 minutes of constant stirring. The drill is to add a ladle of liquid, stir as it is absorbed, add more, stir more. This goes on and on until the dish literally shouts, “Done!”

Lastly, add any extras such as cheese, mushrooms, vegetables or even chopped, dried fruit.

Never hold risotto in a pot. It soon will turn sticky. A proper risotto is soft and creamy with no excess liquid on the plate. Here is where many cooks fail, serving a gluey mess.

It takes labor to make a fine risotto. Don’t become frustrated. You’ll soon recognize its feel when done. And you won’t need to head to the gym afterwards –– you’ve had your exercise for the day.

Basic Risotto

1 cup Arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup shallots or onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
Sea salt, to taste

Heat stock to a simmer. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent.Add rice to butter and stir, coating all grains. Saute for another minute or so, until there is a slightly nutty aroma. Never let the rice turn brown.
Add the wine, and cook while stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Add a ladle of hot chicken stock to the rice, and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock, and repeat the process.
Continue for 20 to 30 minutes. Stirring constantly prevents scorching. The rice is done when creamy and the grains have a slight bite — not mushy.

Note: If you run out of stock, use water.

Serves 4 as a side dish and 2-3 as a main course.