When a craving for cold weather comfort food hits, some people do mac and cheese. I do risotto. It’s easy to put together on short notice, filling, and delicious. Add a green salad or some chopped raw vegetables and you’ve got a meal.
Cooking risotto is not a complicated process, but it does require a bit more attention than regular rice. First, you need the correct rice, which is either Arborio or Carnaroli. Unlike regular rice, risotto rice is cooked slowly. The liquid is added a little at a time; the rice is stirred with each addition. The result is a creamy cooked rice, which is finished with grated cheese.
Cooked risotto is a wonderfully versatile vegetarian dish that goes especially well with an added vegetable. You can add any vegetables you like, but in my experience, some just work well and some don’t. For example, I wouldn’t use broccoli or green beans or carrots. Here are some of my preferred vegetable additions:
- peas (frozen peas work just fine)
- spinach (frozen chopped spinach is really easy)
- chopped tomatoes
My current favorite: winter squash. In particular butternut squash. There’s something about the subtle sweetness of the squash that complements the combination of rice, cheese and broth to perfection. The only drawback is preparing the squash. If you can’t find pre-cut squash, you have to peel and chop your own. You will need a really good knife and good knife skills. I typically start by cutting off the stem end, then slicing the squash into rounds, which I carefully peel and then chunk up.
Vegetables add nutrients to risotto. Peas, greens like spinach, and winter chard in particular add vitamins like vitamin A and folate, plus fiber and minerals like potassium.
I always start with some onions, but not garlic. Onions are more subtle. It’s a personal preference. If you want risotto to pack a flavor punch, add some minced garlic. Herbs are another good option. Again, I’m more about subtle flavors, such as basil. Oregano, thyme and parsley are also good choices, depending on the cheese and vegetable combination. If I have fresh basil or oregano, I those at the end of cooking.
Another possibility: toasted chopped nuts. Walnuts and pine nuts would be particularly good choices for risotto. Again, add them at the end of cooking, or use them as a condiment, sprinkled on each serving.
Here’s my risotto cooking method. You can certainly find others online or in cookbooks. Or you may already have your own system worked out.
Butternut Squash Risotto
Risotto is a bit like pasta: you may prefer it al dente or a bit softer. Use more liquid for a softer cooked grain.
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 3 or more cups chicken or vegetable broth (you may sub 1/2 cup of white wine for broth)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 TB olive oil
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 2-3 cups Butternut squash chunks
- pinch of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- Step 1 Heat the oil in a sauce pan and sauté the onion over low-moderate heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring to prevent scorching.
- Step 2 Add the raw rice and continue stirring to toast the grains, 2-4 more minutes.
- Step 3 Gradually add liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly.
- Step 4 After 2 cups have been added, add the squash to the pot. Continue adding the rest of the liquid, stirring.
- Step 5 Cover the pot and cook on low heat until the squash is fork-tender, about 5-8 minutes. Do not over-cook the squash, it should hold its shape.
- Step 6 Add the cheese and nutmeg, taste for salt.
- Step 7 Serve with more cheese and/or chopped nuts.