The first time I ever made risotto was my freshman year of college. I mean, I’d helped in the kitchen, done the stirring, added things, but I’d never made it from start to finish. Then I went to my friend’s grandparent’s house in Napa. There were just 4 of us. I recall it so clearly: Mark, Frida, Laura, and myself. Laura’s grandparents’ house was on a golf course and they were in the city for the week. It was just an hour drive from school so we went that winter just for a night or 2. Laura’s grandparents had dried porcini in the cupboard. I thought, ah risotto is so easy!
Alas, not so easy. I overmixed, undermixed, added broth too fast and too slow, not enough and way too much. It was overcooked and undercooked at the same time. It turned out a large lump of hard oatmeal. I mean inedible. I couldn’t believe it. I decided I would never attempt risotto again. And then I did. It wasn’t as bad, but it certainly wasn’t good. I made it for Mr G once upon a time. He claims his father (Italian descent no less) does not stir his risotto. Ask any Italian and they would certainly gasp. Everyone I come across says that risotto has been easy, perhaps my expectations are just a little too high? Perhaps. But I just don’t want to make the instant or poorly made risotto. My mother suggested it was the brand. I bought a good brand. I made it once more- it was pretty good, but not great. Still.
Then a few weeks ago my boss made arrangements for a staff retreat out in the Hill Country. It was a cooking class for all staff and then about half of us stayed the night in this wonderful place called Juniper Hills Farm. The cooking class was fun, it was more of an exercise in team-building than anything new in the kitchen for many of us. However, we did make “oven baked” mushroom risotto. Again, perhaps the Italian grandmas (oh so many are reading my blog) would gasp. BUT it was tasty, and still creamy. I decided this would be the fool-proof version I would try at home. So I did. It turned out pretty well. The best so far. So here I have written what I did AND the best part? The leftovers. When I was younger my mother used to make this tomato risotto that was one of my absolute favorites. With the leftovers she’d make a big risotto pancake stuffed with mozarella. I did a couple of variations of that and then also attempted my hand at arancini. More on that later.
Yikes- it’s been weeks since I wrote this posting. Is this blog-faux pas?
2 slices pancetta, cut into small cubes
1 onion, chopped and separated in 1/2
1 large crookneck squash, deseeded and chopped
1 large zucchini, deseeded and chopped
2-3 small leeks (or 1 large), greens trimmed off, whites chopped
5-6 cups liquid (I use 4 c chicken stock diluted with water)
1.5 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup grated aged pecorino
Saute the pancetta in a large pot until the fat just starts turning translucent. Cut the squashes in half lengthwise, and make a slash with your knife around the seeded parts and remove. Don’t be too finicky about this!
Add the crookneck, 1/2 of the onion, and the zucchini. Saute until tender. Remove from pan and set aside for later. Next, saute the leeks, the remaining half onion, and the carrots until tender, over low heat. Don’t let brown.
In a pot, heat 4 cups of broth with 2 cups of water and let it sit on the stove. Preheat the oven to 225 (I think, I can’t remember now what I did!). Now, here’s where it gets special. Don’t be scared, and don’t tell any Italians out there (or my mom). Instead of adding the liquid 1 ladle at a time, add 4 cups of the warmed liquid mixture to the pot and stir for a couple of minutes, slowly. Then cover the pot. Let it come to a boil. Stir again. Put the lid back on and put it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Stir. Put it back in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir.
The rice should be tender and the liquid absorbed. If ever the liquid is absorbed and the rice is not tender yet, add more liquid. This process took me an hour. But instead of an hour of stirring, it was an hour of prepping the rest of dinner while the risotto was in the oven. Don’t judge me! It was tasty. I didn’t have my usual tasters on this, but I think it turned out pretty well. Taste for salt and add 1/4 cup grated pecorino and stir. Top with fresh basil and more pecorino as desired.