Risotto is literally a meal in the palm of your hand. Combine a fistful of pudding rice with an onion and some tasty stock for yet another dish that is way more than the sum of its parts. The basic principle of risotto is to beat the hell out of a rice kernel so that it releases as much starch as possible without overcooking. The more you stir, the more starch is released; the creamier the risotto. It is that simple!
The idea is slowly to add hot liquid (usually stock) to the rice and, as the liquid is absorbed and more starch is thrown out from your continuous stirring, the risotto 'grows' into creamy, ever tasty comfort food.
IT ALL BEGINS WITH ONION & BUTTER
As with most dishes, the making of risotto begins with the softening of some onion in butter or oil. It is very important that the onion is really very finely chopped, as it literally needs to disappear!
ADD THE RICE
Then add the rice and stir into the oniony butter/oil until all the grains are coated with it and they look translucent and glassy. It is important throughout these early stages that you do not allow the butter/oil to overheat or any of the ingredients to brown, as this will spoil the delicate look and flavor of the risotto.
Then add some flavoring ingredients, i.e., vegetables, fish, etc., unless preparing a simple Parmesan- or booze-based risotto.
A SPLASH OF WINE
Add the wine and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it has all has evaporated.
LADLEFULS OF TASTY STOCK
Next, start adding the hot stock, a ladeful at a time, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before you add the next. Remember, the more you stir, the creamer the risotto. By the time you finish adding the stock, your rice should be soft on the outside with a firm center, and the risotto should be nice and creamy. This will take about 18 minutes. If you run out of stock and your rice is still a bit less than tender, add some hot water.
THE ITALIAN SECRET – mantecatura
The final stage of risotto-making is what is called the mantecatura; that is, when you make your risotto even more creamy just before serving by removing the pot from the heat and beating in very cold butter and grated cheese. This is considered a great skill in Italy and an important part of making the perfect risotto. It is important that your butter is cold and chopped into little pieces so that it does not split the mixture. Some people cheat, including Italians and chefs by adding a splash of cream or mascarpone at this point. I personally prefer putting in the elbow grease.
USE ARBORIO RICE
As far as rice species go, I have recommended Arborio rice throughout. It is the perfect rice for risotto and, although less glamorous than some of its trendier relatives, this rice delivers every time. What's not to like?