This past Friday night, I boldly stirred something I had never stirred before…risotto. Risotto is an Italian rice specialty made by stirring hot stock into a sautéed rice mixture (thanks, Epicurious, for the definition). The slow addition of hot stock allows the rice to release starch, which gives risotto a creamy consistency.
I had never before made risotto, although I found a recipe in the January 2012 edition of Cooking Light magazine that caught my eye. I made my substitutions (including adding garlic, eliminating the shallots, using homemade chicken stock, substituting the white wine with water, and finding a chicken sausage without yeast, sugar or onion) and followed the directions closely, which yielded a delightful result. However, I learned a few things about risotto that I want to share with you so you can learn from my novice mistakes:
(1) Prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time. This is because once you start stirring, you will find it hard to stop. Fortunately, I prepped fairly well ahead of time so my mushrooms were sliced, garlic was minced, sausage was diced, and other ingredients were accessible. The spinach however, remained in the bag, unwashed. As I stood stirring at the stovetop, watching with amazement as the rice slowly became a creamy risotto, it became clear that the leafy green vegetable was not going to wash itself. I felt relief when SensitiveHusband walked in the door, home from work. I was so happy that he was home so we could chat, enjoy a good meal, and he could wash the spinach.
(2) When the recipe calls for “constant stirring,” it is not kidding. Pull up a chair, hold a good book in one hand, and keep stirring with the other hand. I was able to take mini-breaks, but once you wipe the sweat from your brow, return to stirring.
I found a few other good tips from Susan Russo for NPR, but as long as you follow this recipe you should not have any trouble getting the correct result.
While I was stirring, I had some time to think, and my thoughts drifted to rice production. So after dinner I did some research. Most risottos are made with arborio rice, which is mostly cultivated in Italy. The U.S. is a net exporter of rice, growing mostly long- and short-grain varieties. About 99% of the total U.S. rice crop is produced in four regions:
1. Arkansas Grand Prairie (Arkansas is the largest single rice producing state with about 45% of rice producing acreage);
2. Mississippi Delta (includes Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana);
3. Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana); and
4. Sacramento Valley of California.
The USDA’s rice outlook from February 10, 2012 notes that the 2011-12 global rice production forecast was raised 1.3 million tons to 462.7 million tons, which is the largest crop on record. It looks like Italy’s arborio rice crop is expected to be a good one this year, so enjoy your risotto!
* 3 cups (homemade or) fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
* 1 1/3 cups water
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 1/8 teaspoon salt
* 1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
* 5 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and diced (about 2 links)
* 5 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 cup uncooked arborio rice
* 1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach
* 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese
1. Bring broth and 1 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan (do not boil); keep warm over low heat.
2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add salt and mushrooms to pan; cook for 8 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove mushrooms from pan, and set aside.
3. Add sausage to pan, and cook for 3 minutes or until browned. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Add rice; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in 1/3 cup water, and cook until liquid is nearly absorbed, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.
4. Stir in 1 cup broth mixture; cook for 2 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth mixture is absorbed before adding the next (about 30 minutes total). Remove pan from heat. Add mushrooms and spinach; stir until spinach wilts. Top evenly with cheese. Serve and enjoy immediately.