It's a staple on upscale Italian menus, but risotto can be a go-to dish for your busy weeknights too. Slowly cooking starchy rice in flavorful broth is a deceptively easy technique -- so easy that you don't have to follow a detailed recipe. Taste the risotto along the way and add broth, salt and pepper and other flavorings until you're satisfied.
Use arborio or another short-grain, starchy rice such as carnaroli. Vegetable, chicken or beef broth or stock are all suitable for risotto. Choose one that tastes pleasant to you and isn't overly salted, as it will be concentrated as the dish cooks. You may also add some dry white wine if you choose, though red wine is also an option. Plan to use a ratio of one part rice to about four parts of broth; you may need less broth, but using too little leads to dry risotto.
Your broth or stock must be hot when it's added to the rice. Bring it to a boil, then turn the burner down to keep the liquid at a simmer. Using a large, heavy saucepan or pot, saute a chopped onion in oil and butter over medium heat. If you want to include diced celery, carrots or mushrooms in your risotto, add those too. When the veggies are soft, stir in a few cloves of minced garlic and the rice. Cook this mixture for a few minutes to toast the rice.
If you choose to use wine, add it to the toasted rice. One half cup to 1 cup will suffice. Stir the rice until most of the liquid is gone, and then start adding the warm broth, one ladle at a time. After each addition of liquid, stir the risotto thoroughly and wait until the liquid has been absorbed fully, which should take a few minutes each time. Continue adding liquid in this way until the rice looks fluffy and tastes soft but still chewy. This process typically takes 20 to 30 minutes.
Add a pat of butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or lemon juice and fresh herbs to make your simple risotto into a satisfying side dish. To add more flavor or turn the dish into an entree, add fully cooked ingredients during the last few minutes of cooking. Add diced grilled chicken, sauteed shrimp or crumbled sausage, or pack the risotto with veggies. Stir in greens, chopped tomatoes, pureed butternut squash, steamed asparagus chunks or fresh peas.