Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Way to a Man's Heart is Through Risotto

If I had only one piece of advice to give to any newlywed bride, it would be this: Learn to make risotto. The old saw, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is completely true. Cooking for someone you love, whatever your gender, is a labor of love, and is much appreciated by the recipient. And risotto is something that almost no-one dislikes, is allergic to, or has an ethical objection to or a religious prohibition regarding. It goes with nearly any entrée. It looks and smells wonderful, and it takes next to zero cooking skills to make. In short, it is the perfect romantic food.

Before I met my husband, I had never made risotto. Before I met my husband, I had never even HAD risotto. But once I had it, I fell in love (with him as well as with the dish). And once I saw how much he loved it, I decided that it was a dish I needed to learn how to make. So with much trepidation, I searched the internet for risotto recipes. And boy was I ever surprised at the results!

Let me let you in on a secret: risotto is one of the easiest dishes to make on the entire planet. Pretty much the only culinary skills you need are the ability to stir and the ability to measure. And even the latter is pretty flexible. The only other requirement is time.

For any of you readers who have never made risotto, let me give you some simple instructions on how to make a basic risotto. You don’t even really need precise measurements. Well, maybe for the first time or two. But after that, let your palate be your guide!

First, melt some butter over low heat in a heavy saucepan and sauté some chopped onion and minced garlic for a few minutes. (If you’re the type who feels lost without specific measurements, for two servings, go with a tablespoon of butter, half an onion chopped fine, and about a teaspoon of prepared minced garlic.) Now throw in three-quarters of a cup of Arborio rice and stir for a minute or two. Then, pour in half a cup of dry white wine. (Be sure to sample the wine at this stage. You know, to make sure it’s good. It’s best if you continue to sample the wine periodically as you cook. Trust me on this.) Simmer, stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed (this should take about 3-5 minutes). While this is simmering, warm up 2 cups of chicken broth (ore vegetable broth, for a vegetarian/vegan version) either on the stovetop or in the microwave. While simmering and stirring, add the warm broth about ½ a cup at a time, stirring often, and waiting till most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This should take about 20-25 minutes. When all the broth has been absorbed, and the rice is tender but firm, stir in another tablespoon of butter, add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and then stir in a handful of freshly grated Parmesan (about ¼ of a cup). Serve immediately, topping with additional Parmesan if you like.

Once you’re comfortable making this basic recipe, you can get all kinds of wild and crazy and throw in some other ingredients. Vegetables like broccoli, artichoke hearts, butternut squash, mushrooms, peas, tomato, spinach, asparagus, and shallots can all be tossed in. Fresh herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, or saffron add flavor, fragrance, and an elegant look. You can make your risotto into a main dish by adding shrimp, chicken, mussels, scallops, ham, or duck. You can doctor it up with splashes of lemon juice, truffle oil, or red wine. You can even skip the rice and make it with barley, farro, couscous, lentils, or quinoa. You are limited only by your own imagination.

The beauty of risotto is that it looks like a lot more work than it is. Any time you want your sweetheart to feel loved, pampered, and well-fed (and if you want him – or her - to think you worked a lot harder than you did), just be finishing up the risotto as he or she arrives home from work. The beautiful aroma from the wine, onion, and garlic is sure to fill the house and create an inviting atmosphere as soon as the door opens. And the creamy goodness will make your sweetie purr with happiness.

And, just for the record, if your sweetie is ever away for a few days and you feel like pampering yourself, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with whipping up a batch just for yourself. If you’re feeling really generous, you can even leave some of the leftovers for your sweetheart.

Risotto. It’s Italian for “love.”
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