Risotto is one solution to summer cooking, especially if you’re on holiday. You’re making do with a wonky stovetop and a skillet. You want to cook, but not too much. And, of course, you want something delicious.
It’s an easy meal and versatile; just add a green salad for an elegant vacation soiree. If it’s a grander occasion, serve the risotto in smaller portions as a first course, followed by something from the grill.
The first thing to know about risotto is that it really isn’t difficult to make, despite what you may have heard. It’s all in the technique — which basically means paying attention, adjusting the heat correctly and nursing the dish along. It won’t take more than half an hour from start to finish. Eighteen to 20 minutes should suffice.
Here is the basic routine: Heat some olive oil or butter and soften a diced onion in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or reasonable facsimile. It is better to use a pot that’s too wide than one that’s too narrow. (When in doubt, use a skillet.) Add arborio or carnaroli rice to the onions and saute, coating the rice and letting the mixture brown slightly. Splash in some white wine and let it cook off.
All that remains is to add liquid in small increments and stir as it’s absorbed. The heat must be brisk, but not too brisk, and you’ll need to adjust it occasionally. Continue adding liquid and stirring until the rice is done and a bit saucy. To finish, stir in a bit of butter or olive oil and some grated cheese. Basta.
You will probably add vegetables. You might use various types of liquid. Meat or chicken broth will make a richer risotto. Vegetarian renditions made with vegetable broth will taste a bit leaner, but it’s also possible to make one using only tap water.
Once you become proficient, you’ll be able to have it a hundred ways throughout the year. You can make a simple lemon risotto for a first course or saffron-scented risotto to serve with braised lamb shanks. Every vegetable qualifies. Wild mushrooms for an autumn version; butternut squash for winter; peas and asparagus in the spring.
Just now, with the tomato harvest in full swing, is the time to make risotto al pomodoro, with the ripest, sweetest tomatoes you can find. Use a good quantity of chopped tomatoes as part of the liquid. I find the sharpness of pecorino or provolone provides a perfect contrast. You could also try some ricotta salata or a bit of mozzarella.
To further up the tomato quotient, I like to serve slices of colorful heirloom varieties alongside. It’s prime tomato season, after all.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
Salt and pepper
1-1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
Pinch of red-pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups diced ripe red tomatoes
3 cups boiling water or vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan, plus more for serving
4 medium tomatoes, in different colors, sliced
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Snipped basil, for garnish
Preparation: Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the onion, and season generously with salt. Add pepper to taste, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice and cook the onions, stirring, until the onions are barely brown, about 2 minutes. Add red-pepper flakes, garlic, white wine and diced tomatoes, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes more.
Add 2 cups boiling water and adjust the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring well with a wooden spoon every minute or so.
When the liquid is absorbed, add remaining 1 cup water and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until the rice is cooked, but the grains are still firm. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding another splash of water if necessary to loosen the mixture. Turn off the heat, stir in the pecorino and 2 more tablespoons olive oil.
Transfer to a low, wide serving bowl. Surround the rice with tomato slices and season them with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and basil. Pass more grated cheese at the table.