Risotto-Making Tips from Lidia Bastianich

Photo by Sara BonisteelPhoto by Sara Bonisteel

by Sara Bonisteel,

Home cooks all have certain dishes and techniques that are stumbling blocks. These are those recipes that need to be seen in action to be understood.

For me, current struggles include roux and risotto. But I'm feeling more confident about the latter after attending a class with Lidia Bastianich earlier this week in conjunction with the opening of Eataly's expanded cooking school, La Scuola di Eataly.

See also: Healthy Comfort Food Recipes for Any Day

"Risotto is all about technique," Bastianich says. "So what is the technique? First it begins in the rice."

Three of the most popular Italian rice varietals are baldo, carnaroli, and the best known, arborio. Bastianich prefers carnaroli as it "gives me the best creaminess."

"Rice is one of the oldest foods, it feeds the largest amount of people in the world, and there's over a thousand different species of rice," she says. "The simple recipe for risotto: one cup of rice, 3 cups of liquid will yield 2 cups risotto. It's as simple as that. Usually to make a portion for 6, which is usually common, it will take 12 to 16 minutes [of cooking] depending on the width [of the pan]."

The trick is to slowly add the liquid to coax out the starches in the rice while keeping the core of the kernel al dente.

It's a dance that's a little easier if you follow Bastianich's tips.

Toast the Kernels This steps helps keep the rice al dente at the core. "I'm going to toast it, and I'm going to coat it with the olive oil," she says. "I'm formulating a little capsule on that rice. So this way, I'm in control because there's nothing worse when you cook a risotto, and the rice is raw on the inside and open on the outside."

Flavor with Wine Before Broth Bastianich says risotto-making is all about the subtle layering of flavors. Start with a good white wine, which will impart some acidity to the dish. "Before any other liquid, I'm going to add white wine," she says. "The rice is thirsty, it's going to pull it right in."

Make Sure the Stock Is Hot "When the rice has absorbed all of the wine, and the kernel itself has flavor, you add the stock. It's important the stock is at the same temperature," she says. "You're trying to get those starches out and they're coming out, if you put cold stock you coagulate that. You're defeating your purpose of creaminess."

Add Stock Slowly "Again that's chemistry because if you insert one thing in a solution, the dominant solution will prevail," Bastianich says. "And if you insert a lot of water here, that's when the rice will open up because there's so much liquid." And you'll lose your al dente kernel.

The Pan Matters "A nice, wide pan is recommended with a thick base, so that the heat is spread evenly," she says. "You want evaporation to happen."

Add the Butter and Cheese Last Remove the pan from the heat and then add the butter and cheese so they don't break down. "If you add it at the last minute, the flavor is retained and it really kind of whips up," she says. "The same for the cheese."

Eat It Right Away "Once it's cooked, you've got to get it going because it will continue to absorb liquid," Bastianich says. "You can't leave it--pasta, risotto--I remember we used to get called to the table and the saying was that if you don't come in time, the risotto will wait for you at the door. Meaning that it grows."

Looking for a particular recipe? Our database contains more than 80 Italian risotto recipes. Dig in!

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