I flirted with the idea of making lobster shepherd’s pie, a lovely Valentine’s Day recipe from Patrick and Silvana Broadhead, one of three culinary couples I profiled for Wine Enthusiast. Sweet-and-sour short ribs with dried cranberries (from restaurateurs Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzsky) were tempting, too.
Both dishes possess the voluptuous mouthfeel and sensual flavors that fit the occasion. But so does risotto, and that’s what I’m cooking instead for my honey. I’ve always thought that the risotto I make just for us comes out a little better than a larger batch–and it’s worth noting that the best restaurants cook risotto to order, one or two servings at a time.
Risotto is really about the rice, a short-grain variety like Arborio or Carnaroli that turns luscious and creamy as it nears the end of cooking. Usually there are one or two featured ingredients, such as artichokes or shellfish. One of my favorite wintry combinations consists of mushrooms and radicchio, with pancetta lending a rich and sultry underpinning to the dish.
Risotto has the reputation of being labor intensive and difficult but, honestly, it’s not as long as you follow a few simple rules.
- Create a vibrant flavor base by sauteing aromatics and featured ingredients.
- Stir in the rice, making sure the grains are coated and slightly toasted before adding liquid.
- Keep the risotto mixture at a brisk simmer throughout the cooking.
- Cold broth would slow down the cooking, so keep it warm.
- Stir as needed to prevent sticking, but not constantly.
- When the rice is perfectly cooked, give the risotto a final drink of broth and remove from the heat.
Now share the risotto with someone you love–and if you’re in the mood, you can even share the bowl.
- 3 cups good-quality chicken or vegetable broth if salty, substitute water for part of the broth
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely diced pancetta buy at the deli counter or baked ham with a little fat
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion
- 6 to 8 mushrooms such as shiitake caps, crimini or chanterelles, halved and sliced
- 1 cup shredded Italian radicchio
- 2/3 cup Arborio or Carnaroli
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons white wine, white vermouth or Marsala wine
- Parmigiano Reggiano or other hard grating cheese
- Kosher or sea salt optional
In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil and adjust the heat to a slow simmer.
To make the flavor base: Over medium heat, coat the bottom of a small skillet or wide-bottomed saucepan with the olive oil. Cook the pancetta and shallot, stirring, until the pancetta crisps and most of the fat liquefies. Stir in the mushrooms and radicchio; cook until softened and lightly browned. Season to taste with pepper.
Melt the butter in the same pan. Stir in the rice and cook for a moment or so, until the grains are coated and smell toasty. Add the wine, stirring until it is absorbed. Ladle on enough warm broth to barely cover the rice. Adjust the heat so the liquid simmers briskly but not furiously. When most of it has been absorbed, add more broth. Continue to stir often, adding broth as needed, until the rice is cooked through but still slightly firm in the center.
Remove the pan from the heat and grate a little cheese (a tablespoon or so) over the risotto; stir, taste and add salt if needed. Add a final ladleful of broth for the risotto to "drink" while resting for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with more grated cheese or, using a vegetable peeler, carve a few shards as a garnish.