Risotto is a comforting dish that many of us resort to eating only in restaurants. And yet it is a simple home-style dish that is quite easy to prepare. One of the nicest things about risotto is that it allows for mistakes — rice a little too soft, sauce not creamy enough, the dish a bit dry — it is still a really good meal.
You can make it with virtually any kind of stock or broth you have on hand, stir in whatever vegetables you like, and top it with anything from roasted shrimp to big shavings of Parmesan cheese. However, buying the right kind is key and non-negotiable — here is what you need to know.
Why rice is so important in risotto
Risotto, at its most basic, is rice cooked in broth. Rice is the star here because it produces starch — the constant stirring during the cooking process rubs the starch off the surface of the rice, where it dissolves into and thickens the cooking liquid. Choosing rice that does not have enough starch means that the hallmark creamy texture of a good risotto will never be achieved.
Look for rice that is short to medium-grain in size, plump, and has high starch content. These types of rice also hold up well to the constant stirring
The three most popular types of risotto rice are:
Carnaroli: Called the ‘king’ or ‘caviar’ of risotto rice, chefs like to use this one for its great flavor and because each grain maintains its shape. It also produces the creamiest risotto and is more forgiving to cook with.
Arborio: Arborio is not as starchy as Carnaroli, but it is the most widely available. This medium-grain rice can be easy to overcook or turn mushy, but with careful attention, can still make a great risotto.
Vialone Nano: This shorter-grain rice is grown in the Veneto region of Italy and cannot be grown with chemicals. It has a high starch content, cooks up more quickly than Carnaroli, and yields very creamy risotto.
You may see Superfino, Semifino, and Fino on packages of risotto rice, but they only refer to the width of the grains, not quality. A piece of advice: because the rice starch is so valuable when making risotto, never rinse the rice before cooking it.
Baked Mushroom Risotto with Caramelized Onions
15g dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup olive oil, divided
4 yellow onions (about 2 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
250g cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup Arborio or short-grain white rice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to garnish
Heat the oven to 150°C. Rinse the dried mushrooms lightly, to remove any dust or grit. Place the mushrooms in a ceramic bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Set them aside to steep while you cook the onions.
Chop one of the onions into a fine dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 3-liter ovenproof pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until soft and golden. Push the onions to the side of the pot, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add all the sliced cremini mushrooms and let them cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Flip the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes, or until they are quite brown and a crust is developing on the bottom of the pan.
Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Add the mushrooms and rosemary sprig to the pan and sauté briefly, mixing with the onion and the rest of the mushrooms. Add the rice and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 4 minutes, or until the rice begins to turn transparent.
Turn the heat to high and add the vinegar, broth, and reserved mushroom steeping liquid. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan as you add the liquid to deglaze any yummy mushroomy bits sticking to the pan. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and put it in the oven to bake for 35 minutes.
While the rice is baking, make the caramelized onions. Heat the remaining olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Cut the remaining three onions in half, and then slice them into thin half moons. Add them to the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a dark mahogany brown. Let them go for at least 30 minutes.
When the risotto has finished baking, let it stand uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Dish it up and top each bowl with a spoonful of caramelized onions, a little extra pepper, and, if desired, a scoop of sour cream, whipped mascarpone, or whipped cream cheese.