Ask 2 Italians what’s the correct way to prepare pasta. You will get the same story from both: al dente, toss with sauce, serve piping hot. Ask two Italians how to make a risotto. You will get 2 stories. Ask 4 of them, you will get 4 stories. Stir, don’t stir. Use only butter, oil’s forbidden. No! olive oil’s OK. Condiments at the beginning, no, at the end. Rest, don’t rest. Finish with cream? No cold butter! Vialone? Arborio? Carnaroli?
I am a “non native” risotto eater. They don’t make risotto in Umbria, so I can’t tell you how my grandma made it. Nor my mum who – being Sicilian and adverse to creamy dishes - did not like it. I also happen to be fond of dishes full of flavor, light in texture and calories and made with minimal attendance.
So if you like those stodgy concoctions obtained by beating the life out of the poor grains until they disintegrate and then cemented by extravagant amounts of cheese and butter, please read no further.
Here are my own fundamental rules:
1) Good quality risotto rice. I prefer Carnaroli which has a nutty taste and does not overcook easily. Arborio and Vialone Nano are also good but I have never found a non-Italian rice that will work for a risotto.
2) Good quality stock, bought, canned, homemade, you choose but nothing with that MSG taste will do
3) I use a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. The rice has to be in a thin layer all the time so the grains cook slowly at the same temperature. This way I only stir when I add the liquid and then let it sweetly simmer until most of the stock is evaporated. Meanwhile I have a life.
4) I cook condiments – i.e. vegetables, meat or seafood – separately and add them when the rice is almost ready. Then I sprinkle some herbs if the recipe needs it.
- 30 gr. / 1 ounce pancetta cut into tiny strips
- 400 gr/ 1 pound green asparagus
- 1 garlic clove
- a few strands of saffron
- 1 lt / 5 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon butter or EVO oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 cups arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pancetta in small nonstick skillet until translucent. Add the saffron strands to 2 tablespoon of broth and let it soak. Trim asparagus, toss with one tablespoon EVO oil and broil/grill until just tender. Add one garlic clove finely chopped and cover to infuse for at least 5 min. Chop the garlic infused asparagus in 2 cm /1 inch pieces, cover again and reserve.
Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook , adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid.
When the rice is tender but still has a bite add the golden saffron liquid to the rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For extra creaminess finish with cold diced butter stirring vigorously. Stir in the asparagus, the pancetta, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve, passing the remaining Parmesan separately.