It hadn’t occurred to me to try to make risotto myself until this summer. I’d heard it was a fussy, needy dish that required lots of stirring, careful attention to liquid absorption, and good timing. It sounded like something I would most certainly screw up the first time. And to be honest, with the first recipe I tried, I did screw up. Indeed, my first foray into the world of risotto yielded a flavorful (and rather out of season) kabocha and parmesan cement. While certainly filling, this cement-sotto put me off trying things again. Until, that is, I noticed a recipe for Parmesan risotto in my current favorite cookbook, The Science of Good Cooking.
I describe this book as “textbook meets cookbook;” in addition to having a wealth of recipes (largely recipes suited to American tastes), what sets this book apart is the fact that it is technique-driven. Each chapter presents a scientific principle that the recipes in that chapter then aim to exemplify. It is a fantastic way to explore flavor, texture, and cooking methods. Each recipe I have tried has been extraordinarily delicious and educational. I regret how slowly I’ve been able to progress through it (alas, budget concerns and stomach capacity are forever limiting factors).
It was thus that when I saw a “no fuss” recipe for parmesan risotto in this much-loved book that I decided to give things a go one more time. The recipe is included in a chapter which teaches control of starch (in ingredients like potatoes, pasta, and rice). It explains how amounts of amylose (one of two kinds of starch molecules) and protein in a given rice change the way rice swells and sticks together (or doesn’t). The book also explains that to obtain a creamy consistency with your rice (or for your Parmesan risotto, in this case), you should not rinse it before cooking, as this washes away extra bits of starch that are useful in helping the rice stick together.
The recipe called for Arborio rice, a short-grain rice with high starch content. I had Carnaroli available, so I rolled with it. Carnaroli is medium-grain and has a higher starch content than Arborio. It is also firmer than Arborio (and apparently more expensive). The Internet assured me that Carnaroli was a perfectly suitable choice for my Parmesan risotto, so ahead I went.
While I would argue that this “no-fuss” risotto recipe may perhaps be better titled “only slightly fussy,” it was quite easy to achieve (what with obsessively reading all the instructions at every step of cooking). It requires attention, but not constantly. I was actually somewhat surprised by how satisfying the result was this time around, given how poorly my first attempt into the world of Parmesan risotto was. I got to enjoy a bowl of creamy, flavorful risotto with herbs. The rice grains stuck gently together but were not cemented in any way. The flavor was rich and buttery. The only change I would make for next time is a much drier white wine.
I’m thrilled to finally be able to say I can make risotto (with a little help from my current favorite cookbook). If you’re like me, this could be a good entry point to this delicious dish. Parmesan risotto now…in the future? A Michelin Guide-listed curry risotto I ate two months ago.
Until then, enjoy the recipe below!
Parmesan Risotto with White Wine and Herbs
(adapted slightly from “no-fuss risotto with parmesan and herbs” in The Science of Good Cooking)
makes 6 servings
6 cups chicken broth (I used bouillon cubes)
1 1/2 cups water
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 minced garlic clove
2 cups Carnaroli rice (unrinsed)
1 cup dry white wine
2 oz grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
2 tbsps minced fresh parsley
2 tbsps minced fresh chives
1 tsp lemon juice
- Boil broth and water over high heat. Reduce heat such that the mixture is gently simmering.
- Melt 2 tbsps butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, 3/4 tsp salt. cook until onion softens, stirring frequently (5-7 minutes). Add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
- Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until grains turn translucent around edges (about 3 minutes)
- Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed (2-3 minutes). Stir 5 cups hot broth mixture into rice; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed and rice is just al dente (16-19 minutes), stirring twice during cooking.
- Add 3/4 cup broth mixture and stir gently until risotto becomes creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in Parmesan. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 tbsps butter, parsley, chives, and lemon juice. Add remaining broth mixture as desired to adjust texture and taste. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.