Many people still have trouble cooking plain long grain rice, let alone risotto. And risotto in a hurry? “Fuggedaboudit,” as Tony Soprano might say.  But you can make risotto in about 20 minutes any night of the week.

In case you’ve been on another culinary planet for the past decade (or three), risotto is the Italian rice dish so popular that it seems to grace the menu of almost every restaurant, even non Italian restaurants. You don’t need restaurant experience to make risotto yourself, but you do need a special kind of Italian rice, one that gradually releases its starch while it cooks and combines with hot broth to form something creamy and delicious.

Risotto rice is based on the size of the grains. Semifino is the smallest, then fino, and superfino. Arborio is the most common superfino rice with the largest grains. Vialone nano and carnaroli are even better for risotto but they are more expensive. Restaurants like carnaroli because it holds up under precooking and reheating. They cook the rice for 15 to 20 minutes ahead of time, then spread it on a sheet pan and chill it. When an order of risotto comes in from the dining room, a few scoops of rice are combined with boiling broth and the risotto is finished in a few minutes.

Risotto begins with onions or shallots sautéed in butter and (or) oil. Then rice is added and cooked for a minute or two. (I speed things up and cook the rice and onion together.) White wine is then often added, then hot broth, a cup or so at a time until the rice is firm but tender and the risotto creamy. Frequent stirring insures creaminess.

The broth shouldn’t be too strong or it overpowers the rice. That’s why I dilute the canned broth I use below. The type of broth can vary depending on the type of risotto you want to make. For example, use diluted clam broth with seafood risotto.

As with pasta, risotto is a great vehicle for many other flavors and ingredients. I often use seasonal vegetables like asparagus, but I also use veggies from the freezer, especially peas (see below). I also have dried mushrooms and dried tomatoes on hand in case the vegetable bin is bare. (Add the liquid from the reconstituted vegetables to the cooking broth). A little cured meat like bacon, pancetta (unsmoked bacon), prosciutto or sausage gives a  flavor boost.

Seafood, particularly shrimp and other shellfish, is also delicious in risotto. Shellfish, as well as most fresh vegetables, are usually cooked separately, then folded into the risotto just before the rice is done. (Bottled clam juice works nicely with seafood risotto. Just be careful of the salt.) Fresh herbs, especially sage, thyme, and flat-leaf parsley are good seasoning ideas. A healthy pinch of saffron threads adds an exotic flavor and beautiful color.

Risotto with Peas, Prosciutto and Parmesan

  • One 14-ounce can fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 ounces prosciutto
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1)Run the hot water tap while you open the can of chicken stock into a wide saucepan. Add 3 cups hot tap water, cover, and put over high heat until it comes to a boil. Then reduce heat to a bare simmer.

2)Meanwhile, put the butter and olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan, Dutch oven or sauté pan over high heat. Peel and chop the shallot. Put the shallot and rice into the pan and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir until it is evaporated. Then add 1 cup of the hot stock mixture and stir frequently until the liquid has been absorbed.

3)While the risotto cooks, put the peas in a small colander or strainer and run hot tap water over them to defrost. Add another cup of  stock mixture to the rice and stir frequently until the liquid has been absorbed. In between stirrings, coarsely chop the prosciutto.

4)Add the peas, prosciutto and another cup of  stock mixture to the rice and stir continuously until the liquid has been absorbed. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

5)Add the remaining stock mixture and stir continuously until the rice is tender but still firm and the risotto is somewhat creamy. Stir in the cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 3

Per serving: 446 calories, 22 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrate, 17 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 962 mg sodium.

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