Sunday, August 1, 2010

Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

This dish is insane! I am on such a high. Who would have thought that half an onion, a cup of rice, some butter, some meat broth, and some cheese would produce such a dish, a dish that fired off (almost) every pleasure receptor in my brain, in a way I haven't ever managed to produce on my stove before, in 30 minutes of enjoyable cooking.


I had never produced a successful risotto. They were all duds. Every one of them. Failures. Unpleasant to eat. Deeply unsatisfying. Conflict inducing. Marcella, who is wonderfully warm and generous with her time, was aghast, again, with the difficulty I was having, although I had never tried to cook a risotto out of her book. She kindly posted a comment to me on Facebook, which I will reproduce here as it has not come from her book and I do not think she would mind (although I will check):

"Use a true Italian rice variety, carnaroli is the best, but arborio and vialone nano are also good. Do not wash the rice. Chop half a medium onion fine. Saute the onion with lots of butter until it becomes colored a deep gold, even faintly browned. While the onion is cooking, bring a saucepan of broth or water to a simmer alongside the burner where you have the onion. Add the rice - 1 cup makes a very generous portion for two - and stir it thoroughly coating every kernel with butter and onion. Add three or four ladlefuls of broth or water. Stir well. Adjust the heat to medium high. Keep stirring. When the liquid you have added has been absorbed and/or evaporated, add another two or three ladlefuls, and as always keep stirring. As you stir, make sure the rice comes free of the sides and bottom of the pan. Repeat the procedure as frequently as necessary, but do not EVER stop stirring. After 20 minutes, add some salt and ground black pepper. Taste to see if there is enough salt. I hope your broth isn't salty. Cook for another 5 to 8 minutes. The rice should have absorbed all liquid, but its consistency should be runny. Take pan off heat and briskly stir in a nugget of butter, then a handful of parmesan. Serve it alone, Italian style. It should be delicious. When you have mastered that, you can play with adding other ingredients to the sauteed onion before you put in the rice. "

It was these instructions I followed. I had precious "Marcella Says" meat broth in the freezer (and let me tell you, this stuff will change your cooking forever), I brought it to the simmer while I diced my onion using the technique Marcella's son, Giuliano Hazan, posted on youtube (thanks!). In went the onion with a couple of knobs of butter, the onion went golden, almost brown, and in went the rice, followed by marvelous broth. I followed the recipe, feeling all in charge, enjoying the stirring. I couldn't imagine not stirring - the rice would stick and burn pretty quickly, at least at the heat I had it at. I started running out of broth, so I just topped up the simmering pot with some hot water.

After 20 minutes, I added my salt and pepper, and it was tasting good. After 25 minutes (the time Marcella says it takes her to cook her risotto), the heat was turned off, and my parmeson and a little knob of butter was swirled in.

It rested a little and we were into it. I really went crazy for it, as did my dining companion. It was just the right texture, for me - not hard, and not mushy. Some resistance, just the right texture for pleasurable eating. It was creamy and rich, but not sickening (at all!). I do find obviously rich dishes - such as Marcella's famous butter and tomato sauce - a little too rich. But not this. It was 100% pleasure.

I went back to the pot, which I had thought was empty, to spoon out the rice grains that had mistakenly assumed they had survived the ladle.

I think I am now a risotto addict. I'm going to cook it every week. Looks like I'm going to be getting into a routine for the meat broth to ensure I always have a steady supply.

Next up, risotto with asparagus I think.

As for rice, I used arborio - I'll be searching for Marcella's suggested carnaroli, that's for sure.

What is interesting is that Essentials suggests putting in the butter and parmesan on the heat, whereas Marcella above suggests it be done off the heat. I suspect either way would work.

This dish ranks as one of my life's cooking highs.


  1. hmmm... come cook that bit of magic for your poor old (younger) sister and her hungry children. Would be delightful with your freshly baked bread. X

  2. Glad to see a fellow convert to the wonders of risotto Marcella style!

  3. Looking forward to risotto when I come up next friday for dinner!!! Looks wonderful. Great pot to.

    I followed the fb recipe and then (after trying it how she intended) folded in some asparagus, mushroom (both cooked in the pan with butter before I started) and grilled pumpkin. Was great, an a bit more justifiable as a balanced meal.

    I don't serve mine with any free liquid on the top. I like it not to be sloppy/soupy, but perhaps a little stodgy.

  4. I was very happy with the balance here, and the consistancy. It was bliss. The real meat broth and parmesan cheese were the trick I think. May look at adding a vegetable in the future. But I don't want to confuse things.

  5. OMG thanks for the detailed post on this...especially Marcella's helpful notes from FB, you don't know how jealous I am right now i wish i was her FB friend!