A note about this post – Please forgive the lighting since they were taken on the stove with the stove light above. I did it because making risotto sometimes intimidates the cook and this method is so nontraditional, I wanted to show the steps to assure you it will be okay. Also, we use canned stock. I save my Homemade Chicken Stock for soups where the stock is the main ingredient.
My husband and I made a surprise visit to see my aunt Julia. We took her out shopping and and she was so happy she offered us lunch at her house afterwards. She made Mushroom Risotto that morning. I have to say, she makes a mean risotto and she does not follow any rules whatsoever of how risotto is supposed to be made. More on that later.
We sat down for lunch and the risotto was fabulous. My husband just looked at me and said “yours doesn’t taste like this. It’s good, but it doesn’t taste like this.” He’s absolutely right and the reason is just like I mentioned in the About Me section of this blog. My aunt tells me the recipe but she always seems to leave something out. I don’t know why she does it. It must be a Sicilian thing. So I said, “hey, Zia Julia, what do you say you make some more risotto for me so I can videotape you and watch you make it?”
“Alright. We make it after we finish eating.”
Score! I will have her every move on video. No escaping now.
My aunt got up from her chair and said, “Come on, let’s go. We are going to make this risotto!” In Italian, of course.
I took out my phone and videotaped her as she started to cook. She took a sauté pan and poured a bunch of extra-virgin olive oil in it. Of course she didn’t measure. It was a about a half cup of extra-virgin olive oil which is double the amount that I use. I got it on tape and later figured it was closer to 6 tablespoons.
She took out an onion, cut in half, peeled it, and chopped it whereas I always dice. She scraped it into the pan, put the heat on medium high, (yes, I know…adding the onions into a cold pan, yes, I know…) and then continued to the next step.
“Aren’t you going to use the other half of the onion?”, I asked.
“No.” Then she looked at me annoyed that I kind of interrupted her little thing. Then she smiled. What is it with my family and the looks?
Then she got a can of mushrooms. Yes, a can. Yes you can use fresh mushrooms and clean them up and dice them but she used canned. I asked why, and she said she didn’t have any fresh so she used canned. Easier for me. This is what real cooking is all about. Use what you have. It’s all good.
She drained them and added them to the onions and sautéed until the onions were softened.
She got the rice and was just about to pour it in when I stopped her.
“Zia! You have to measure remember? You’re supposed to be teaching me.”
She just laughed because she knew and I knew she doesn’t measure. She measured out 1 1/2 cups of rice and added it to the pan making sure all the rice got coated.
After that, she poured in 2 cups of canned chicken stock. She brought it to a boil and lowered the heat to a simmer and covered pan.
This is the way my aunt has always made risotto. I mentioned to her that every single cooking show out there stresses to have a pot of hot stock nearby where you stir in a little at a time until the rice absorbs the stock, stirring and stirring with a wooden spoon. Of course, she was using a metal spoon. After I said that to her she looked at me with a smile and said, “In Italia, some people stand in front of the stove stirring with a wooden spoon over and over again. They make it their way and I make it my way.” Then she laughed.
The rice quickly absorbed the liquid and needed more liquid so more stock was added – 1 cup. Then she added a tablespoon of butter – which, of course, is not the order taught in every single cooking show. I wasn’t going to say anything. She added about a teaspoon of sea salt. She was pouring it in when I stuck my hand under the salt so I can catch it and measure it. It startled her because my hand came out of nowhere to catch the salt falling into the pan. She stirred it once again until the butter melted, covered the pan, and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.
I checked the risotto, it needed more liquid. This time she added 2 cups of water, covered the pan, and said it had to cook.
Then she called me into the living room to show me some pictures again breaking all the rules of cooking risotto since she wasn’t a slave to the pot stirring constantly and adding liquid. My aunt distracted me and my husband talking about pictures. Then I noticed she disappeared into the kitchen. I looked at my husband and told him, “get in the kitchen and watch what she’s doing!” He rushed into the kitchen. I put the pictures back and quickly followed behind with my phone ready to continue videotaping. She was already at the stove stirring. She just looked at me and smiled. I don’t know for sure or not if she added something. This is the way it has always been and probably always will. She distracts me so I don’t know all of her secrets. She laughed and I laughed. I asked her if she did something and she said no. But who knows.
The rice was creamy and there was still just a little liquid left in the pan. The rice was so creamy, it was falling over itself and at the same time it was ‘al dente’ – ‘a bite to it’. Then she grabbed the Parmesan cheese and grated some over the risotto. I estimated 1/2 cup. I wasn’t sticking my hand in there to measure!
Anyone reading this will be shocked at the way my Zia Julia makes her risotto. But, when I tell you it was delicious, I mean it! If you are a die hard fan of standing in front of a stove with one pan of heated stock to ladle into another pan with the rice being stirred by you, the slave to the risotto, until the liquid is absorbed over and over again, then by all means continue to make it that way. If you want an easier way, use this recipe. She’s all Italian so it must be OK. If you don’t think it’s right then YOU tell her. I’m certainly not!
One more tip my aunt taught me…if the rice loses it’s creaminess because of sitting too long or because it is chilled, just add a little water or stock to it to loosen it up. You won’t hurt it. Don’t add a gallon, just enough to loosen, maybe 1/4 cup. This is what she did to the Mushroom Risotto she made that morning. Because it sat, it wasn’t creamy. Adding a little water took care of that without compromising the taste. Cooking is for forgiving, baking is not.
Grazie, Zia Julia, for sharing.
Give this a try and…Mangia! Mangia!
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 1½ cups Arborio rice
- 3 cups chicken stock - canned is fine
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté the onions and mushrooms until onions are translucent and mushrooms release their liquid - 5 minutes.
- Stir in rice until fully coated - about 1 minute.
- Add in 2 cups of chicken stock and bring just to a boil - takes about 3 minutes if using right from can.
- Stir, cover, and lower to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add in remainder of stock, butter, and salt and stir until butter is melted.
- Stir, cover, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Adding the unheated stock brings down temperature. Don't worry.
- Stir, add the water, cover and cook another 5 minutes. Taste. The risotto should have a 'bite' to it without being crunchy. This is 'al dente'. If it isn't, cook for a few more minutes and taste.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir in the Parmesan. Taste and adjust for salt.
- Mangia! Mangia!
When using canned chicken stock, be aware of the salt content. Adjust the salt to your taste. I recommend adding any salt after adding the Parmesan cheese as the cheese has salt in it.