Basic Risotto

28 01 2010

Mushroom risotto garnished with chopped parsley and shaved parmesan

We’re already at the end of January (yay!) and I’m getting back to the kitchen after a nasty cold and some unpleasant plumbing issues in my basement.  I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes and have been inspired by some great restaurants and books in the past month. Last weekend it was raining and cold here so I decided to do a comforting braise served over risotto. Risotto has a reputation for being time consuming and difficult to make but it’s actually very simple if you take it step by step and follow a few pointers.

Risotto is a Northern Italian rice dish that is typically creamy tasting with a very slight ‘bite’ to the rice when made properly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad examples of risotto out there (it can be difficult for restaurants to do right because it must be made to order).  The best restaurant risotti I’ve eaten were a braised oxtail version at XO Le Restaurant in Montreal and a seafood risotto at Imàgo at the Hotel Hassler in Rome. In both instances the rice had a creamy texture and lots of flavour.   Although the texture of risotto should be ‘creamy’, no cream or milk is ever added to the rice. Rather, the creaminess is a result of starch being released during cooking.  The key to creamy risotto is to use the right kind of rice and to take your time adding the liquid during the cooking process.

Regular long grain rice doesn’t work for risotto – you need to use specific types. Carnaroli, Arborio and Vialone Nano rice are most commonly used.  I prefer carnaroli rice but arborio is usually more readily available in many areas.  Using good quality stock is also important for good risotto.  Homemade or a high-quality boxed stock are best (low-sodium is preferable).  Many butchers sell tubs of good house made stock as well.  If your stock is very strongly flavoured, you may want to cut it with some water so it isn’t too overpowering.  I prefer chicken stock for most risotti but it depends on what you are adding to the basic recipe so choose your stock flavour accordingly.

This recipe is for a basic risotto which is the foundation for more exotic versions – I have suggested a few variations at the end. However, the possibilities for additions are almost endless so use your imagination!

Basic Risotto

Makes 2 to 3 servings (can be doubled)

(Can be made VEGETARIAN)

  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup raw carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 3-1/2* cups stock (chicken, beef, seafood or vegetable), heated in a sauce pot or microwave
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt, to taste
  1. In a large deep skillet or enameled cast iron pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add rice and sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring periodically.  Pour in wine and stir rice.  Reduce heat and let simmer gently until the wine is completely absorbed, about 3 minutes.
  3. Once the wine has completely absorbed, add 1/2 cup of the stock.  Let the rice simmer gently, stirring occasionally.  Once the stock has almost fully absorbed (about 4 minutes), add another 1/2 cup of the stock.
  4. Repeat the process of adding the stock a half cup at a time once it has almost absorbed. Continue until the rice is creamy and cooked through but still has a very slight ‘bite’ in the middle of the grains (al dente).  Stir the rice on occasion and keep an eye on it.  It will take approximately 7* additions of stock in half cup increments (*Note: the rice may require a little more or less stock, depending on how absorbent it is).
  5. Once the rice is cooked to the desired tenderness, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and parmesan cheese. Stir into the risotto until completely melted.  Any additions can be added at this point (see below for suggestions). Season with salt to taste and serve.

Suggested Additions:

Mushroom – Sauté mixed mushrooms with herbs such as rosemary and thyme.  Stir into a basic risotto and finish with a small amount of truffle oil if desired.

Onion-Sage – Adding a few fresh sage leaves and caramelized onions makes a risotto that pairs well with poultry and pork.

Roasted TomatoSlow roasted plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes are hearty additions.  Season with your favourite herbs such as oregano or basil.

Butternut Squash – Roasted butternut squash or pumpkin with crispy sage leaves turn risotto into an autumn masterpiece.

Seafood – Add your favourite shellfish such as cooked lobster, scallops or shrimp to risotto.  Use shellfish stock in place of chicken stock and leave out the cheese.

Asparagus – Add chopped cooked asparagus and season with a bit of lemon juice and zest for a delicious spring dish.

Saffron – Soaking a few strands of saffron in the chicken broth makes a traditional Risotto Milanese.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!



15 01 2010


Prince Edward Island oysters at St. Lawrence Market, Toronto

Prince Edward Island oysters at St. Lawrence Market, Toronto


Oysters tend to be a ‘love them or hate them’ proposition.  However, for those who do love them, they’re the perfect thing to serve at a cocktail party or as a first course at dinner.  I also think that a lot of people who claim to hate oysters have never really tried them – they just think they look ugly and slimy (which they do, truth be told). Freshly shucked oysters and their sweet, briny liquor go well with a squeeze of lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce, hot sauce and mignonette sauce (see recipe below).

Finding Oysters

Oysters are in season right now and there should be a wide variety available at good fish markets.  The traditional wisdom was that oysters should only be consumed during months with an ‘R’ in their names (ie. the colder months, September to April), however, these days oysters can usually be found year round.  A few years ago, I was on Prince Edward Island for a family reunion and my husband and I were wondering if we’d be able to get oysters.  We were staying not far from Malpeque so of course we could!  We drove a few minutes down the road and found a small dockside fish shop selling fresh oysters for less than a dollar each.  We bought a couple dozen, stopped at the liquor store for some sparkling wine and returned to our cottage to feast with my parents (who had never really eaten oysters, despite living in the Maritimes their entire lives). Luckily you don’t need to live on the coast to enjoy them – oysters are shipped around the world and are readily available at most fish counters. Some of my favourite restaurants to order oysters ‘inland’ include: Joe Beef (Montreal), Rodney’s Oyster House and Rodney’s By Bay (Toronto), Starfish and The Ceili Cottage (Toronto).

I happen to be partial to oysters from Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick (Malpeques, Caraquet, Raspberry Points, Colville Bay, Lucky Limes, etc.) but oysters are harvested around the world, including in Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, the Gulf Coast of the U.S. and New England. 

How to Shuck an Oyster

A shucked oyster and oyster knife


Shucking oysters is not difficult but it does take some practice.  An excellent video from Chef Rich Vellante of Legal Sea Foods gives step-by-step instructions for shucking and preparing oysters: How to Shuck Oysters.  Oyster knives can be purchased at most kitchenware shops and cost as little as $10.           

Serving Oysters

To serve oysters, place ice in a large serving bowl or platter.  Shuck the oysters (see above) and arrange on the ice.  Accompany with fresh lemon wedges and small bowls of seafood cocktail sauce, fresh grated horseradish and mignonette (see below). When selecting a wine to go with oysters, choose a crisp, dry white such as riesling, muscadet, sauvignon blanc or champagne. Beer also works with oysters – try them Guinness for a delicious pairing.

Mignonette Sauce

Serve in a small bowl alongside a platter of oysters and spoon a small amount of sauce over each oyster before slurping it down.

Makes a scant 1/2 cup

  • 2 Tablespoons finely minced shallot (about 1/2 of a medium sized shallot)
  • 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients.  Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

A platter of oysters with (from left to right) horseradish, lemon wedges and mignonette sauce. The wine is a Melon de Bourgogne from Norman Hardie Winery in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Coming Soon…

9 01 2010

Happy New Year to everyone!  We’re only nine days into the year and I’ve already been sick, gotten stranded on vacation due to bad weather and had my basement floor ripped up to replace a drain pipe.  However, despite these minor set backs, I’m excited about 2010 and all of the great ideas I hope to bring you this year.  Some of the things I’m working on for January and February include:

  • Great recipe ideas using winter produce
  • More discussions of restaurants featuring local, seasonal menus
  • An update to ‘My Reading List‘, featuring my favourite cookbooks and websites from the past year
  • Menu suggestions for cold weather feasts
  • Trip reports from my various travels

So stay tuned and check back often for new material (once I’m back on my feet, with both my health and the plumbing situation in my basement!).