One of the nicest social activities is to have your nearest and dearest over for dinner. You can be comfortable, not worry about splitting the bill, without losing that lovely sense of occasion. Of course, there is a bit of pressure on the host, particularly if you’re not the best chef in the world. You want to impress on a date, or at least make sure the food is edible, without cheating with premade store-bought fare or resorting to take away in absolute emergencies. It’s always nice to at least make it seem like we’re masters of our kitchens. Consider making risotto!
Don’t be scared of risotto
For the more inexperienced cooks out there, fancy dishes might sound too intimidating and you’ll naturally shy away from trying something new. But there’s a little known fact that’s here to help you – risotto is EASY. It’s definitely considered a fancy cuisine dish, but there is actually very little technical skill required at all.
The only “tricky” part of risotto is that you have to treat it like a toddler – you can not leave it alone, even for 30 seconds. Risotto has to be constantly stirred. That’s it. Outside of stirring, it couldn’t be an easier dish to make.
First of all, choose your main ingredient. The beauty of risotto is that you can make it with literally anything. You can keep it all veggie, with chopped asparagus and peas. Or you could make it a meaty one, with diced chicken breast and pancetta, or – my favourite and signature ingredient – mushrooms.
Mushrooms are King
Get yourself a deep pan and begin by sautéing your chosen ingredients. I personally like to sauté a mix of King Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms in a generous dollop of salted butter. Using salted butter means you can get away with adding less salt into the body of the risotto. This helps to keep those sodium levels a little lower. King Oyster is a very full-bodied, meaty mushroom that’ll be sure to fill everyone up. Shiitake adds that lovely rich flavour and gives more colour to your dish.
Get your measurements right
Risotto rice can be a tricky ingredient to measure accurately. It expands as you cook so it’s easy to get the quantity wrong. But I have a rather fun and easy trick to make sure you use the perfect amount. Measure it by the shot glass! If you’re serving risotto as a main dish, you’ll want 2-3 shot glasses per person.
If you’re serving it as a side dish, it’s 1-2 shot glasses per person. Risotto rice is quite a bit lower in carbs than other types of rice. If you want to keep things as low calorie as possible, stick to the lower quantities and add extra mushrooms or veggies or whatever your core ingredient is.
If you do choose to cook mushrooms, remember that they sweat and give off a lot of water, so they will reduce significantly. So feel free to use generous portions!
Porcini is an excellent choice if you have dried mushrooms – soak them in hot water for 15-30mins before you start cooking. Not only can you then add those mushrooms to your risotto but instead of using plain water with your rice, you can use this mushroom water – it will add even more amazing flavour to your dish.
Add more flavour!
In terms of flavouring, it’s really up to you. You can keep things simple – just add a bit of salt, pepper, oregano and maybe sprinkle in some fresh, finely chopped basil. Or you could experiment with different spices, and maybe add paprika and chilli powder for a more bold flavour profile.
Sprinkling parmesan cheese on top of your finished risotto is a popular garnish, although I quite like to add a bit of parmesan cheese into the risotto itself while cooking. It’ll add more saltiness (so again, you can go easier on the salt) and make your dish more creamy.
This can be a trickier option for vegans – yes, there are vegan cheeses, but many have a very different flavour and texture to dairy cheese, so may not be the best choice. But – since the parmesan serves the purpose of saltiness and creaminess, you can easily achieve the same thing by mixing half a teaspoon of veggie stock into your rice and a bit of plant-based cream or yoghurt.
Timing can be another tricky element – how much time should you allow if you have to stir the risotto the whole time. I find that for a portion that will feed 2 to 4 people, (for larger batches you may need more time), after you’ve sautéd your main ingredients, the stirring takes about an episode of your favourite comedy’s worth.
An average episode is just over 20 mins, and that’s the perfect amount. Set up your laptop or tablet within viewing, but safe from food splashes, distance, bang on your favourite show and enjoy an episode, while sipping wine and slowly adding water and stirring over medium-low heat. Feel free to splash some of that wine into your risotto if you like. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have your perfect risotto, ready to garnish with fresh herbs and serve!