Friday, June 18, 2010

Feasting Friday- Weeknight Risotto

I know a lot of people who are scared to death of risotto. On the surface, it seems like such a restaurant meal, and yet I have had far more bad risotti in restaurants than I have at home. Risotto is shockingly easy to make, takes much less time than most people think, and is a fantastic tool to have in your bag of tricks.

You can make a basic risotto with pantry items, or a fancy one with special ingredients. It can be an elegant appetizer, a delicious side dish, or a hearty one-pot meal. And despite its creamy consistency, basic risotto is surprisingly good for you, since most of the creaminess comes from the releasing of the starch in the rice into the stock, and not, as many presume, from actual cream. (of course, you CAN add cream, or more butter than I have in mine, or a spoonful of mascarpone cheese and no one will argue…)

When I was writing recipes for GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT, I focused on the comfort foods that the chef heroine, Melanie, would have wanted as she worked her weight loss program. Risotto is filling, even in small portions, and soul-satisfying. It is one of my go-to dishes, especially when I need a bowl of something warm at the end of a long day. So I knew there would have to be a version in the book!

For as long as I can remember, as much as I love making risotto, I hadn’t found the perfect pan. You need something heavy, so that it can stay put during all the stirring. But cast iron never really worked, I had problems with the rice sticking. You need something wide so that the rice and stock meld together easily and the rice all cooks evenly, which is difficult in a deeper pot, since the rice at the bottom tends to cook faster than the rice at the top. But my only options were my skillet, just shy of really being deep enough, and the sloping sides meant the tiniest bit of overzealous stirring and the contents are sloshed onto the cooktop; or my straight sided wide pan, which always trapped rice in the crevices, and wasn’t really big enough.

Who came to the rescue? Emile Henry. A French company specializing in heavy enameled ceramic cookware, designed to go from stovetop to oven to dishwasher. I had seen them in stores for years, but never cooked with one. Until they sent me this:

How freaking gorgeous is this casserole???? I mean, seriously.

Now, Emile Henry calls it a braiser, but the moment it arrived, all I could think about was risotto. And since Chicago decided to have a brief spurt of rainy Fall earlier this week, risotto seemed just the ticket. Plus I had not yet made my famous risotto for Charming Suitor. CS threw his back out last week, literally saving a woman from certain death or disfigurement by catching her when she tripped and started to do a header down the L stairs, making my hero her hero as well. He had a very long week and doctor’s appointments and endless ice packs and a lot of pain, and this Monday was his first full day back at work, so I wanted him to come home to something that was simple, delicious and soothing. A little bowl full of love.

Risotto it was! I knew I was going for the one-pot version, which is the version Melanie makes in the book. Shredded chicken, the meat from a store-bought rotisserie version, frozen peas, canned or fresh artichoke hearts. So easy. The recipe is also in the book, but here is a sneak preview version.

Made, I must say, enormously easier by both the Swiss Chop Chop I mentioned on Tuesday for the shallots, and the new braiser which I think Emile Henry should rename The Best Risotto Pan Ever. The pan was deep enough to contain the contents, and the curvy shape made for both easy stirring and no sloshing. It is a heavy piece, so it didn’t budge, and retained the heat amazingly well, which meant I could cook on medium-low instead of cranked up on high!

I’m a definite fan. And I can’t wait to see how it does in the Fall when I start craving braised stuff again.

CS is doing much better, thank you all for happy thoughts. (I think it might have been the risotto that cured him, but claims it is the anti-inflammatory drugs and rest, even though he did eat two huge bowlfuls and took the leftovers for lunch…)

He is hanging up his cape, tho, so ladies, watch your step on the stairs!

Risotto Ala Melanie from GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT

2 c Carnaroli or Arborio rice
10 c chicken stock
2 shallots, chopped
2 c cooked chicken meat, shredded (from a store bought rotisserie chicken is great here)
4 artichoke bottoms (preferably fresh) cooked and diced
½ c frozen petite green peas (optional)
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
½ c dry white wine or champagne
1 pinch saffron threads
¼ c grated parmagiano reggiano
2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ c toasted pine nuts (optional)
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Put chicken stock in a saucepan and heat over medium until simmering but not boiling. Melt 1 T butter in a heavy bottom wide pan with the olive oil. Add shallots and cook till translucent.

Add rice and stir until each grain is coated. Add wine and saffron threads and stir till wine is totally absorbed. Add chicken stock one ladle at a time until almost completely absorbed, and then add next ladle. Stir continuously.

When it begins to take longer for stock to be absorbed, taste the rice. You are looking for al dente, not mushy or gummy. When you are getting close to the right texture, add the chicken, peas and artichokes to heat through, along with the lemon zest, salt and pepper. When the rice is perfectly cooked, stir in the remaining butter, the cheese, and the parsley, and do a final taste for seasonings. Garnish with pine nuts.

To buy your own Emile Henry braiser.



  1. That food looks sooo good! I'm going to try your recipe, even though last time I tried cooking I kept setting off my smoke detector. I even burn frozen pizza.

  2. I discoverd Emile Henry when I bought their tagine dish. I use it on top of the stove for tagine type dishes, such as chicken with onions and olives but I've decided it is really a braising dish. I made the most fabulous dish using it with just pork chops, onions and potatoes with wine and water as the braising liquid. My it was good.

  3. Emile Henry "flametop" products are great! You can also make bread in the larger pots. This is a great recipe, thanks for sharing it! Can't wait for the book!

  4. Thanks for the sneak peak recipe. I'm not at the point where I can invest in such pricey cookware...yet. I say yet because I spend my money on pricey power tools that years ago I never dreamed I would purchase. So it's really just a matter of time; in the meantime, I hope that i can use my current cookware to practice that delicious looking Risotto

  5. As I said, I've been making this risotto in my regular skillet for years...but I always think it is nice to know what the best tools are so that you know what to invest in when finances allow :) But I hope you will make the risotto regardless!