When I read that Eleanor of Melbourne Food Geek and Jess of Jess The Baker chose risotto as the Daring Cooks’ challenge this month, I was excited. I love risotto – I’ve made a lot of variations, including a squash risotto I’ve made many times since this posting. Risotto is a definite family pleaser around here – and why not? It’s creamy, luscious, filling - the ultimate comfort food! But it’s only fairly recently that I discovered what can really make such a difference in the finished risotto, taking it from already-quite-delicious to oh-my-this-is-amazing. No, it’s not a fancy, expensive, hard-to-find secret ingredient.
It’s homemade chicken stock.
Yep, an unassuming, almost free ingredient (if you plan correctly) makes a key difference in your risotto – or any recipe calling for stock, for that matter. Why? Well, canned stock, while satisfactory in a pinch, is insipid and lacking in the robust flavor that homemade stock can provide. When I make stock, I rarely follow a regimented recipe. Over time, I freeze leftover vegetables – carrots, celery, onions, etc., roasted leftover chicken bones, backs and wing tips from breaking down whole chickens. (I also buy chicken feet just for stock – they add a luscious gelatin, giving the stock more body.) I simply dump approximate amounts of vegetables, chicken bones, and parmesan rinds if I have them, and simmer, simmer, simmer until the stock has taken on a wonderful golden brown color and bursts with flavor. The wonderful thing about this is that it takes little effort on my part. It’s a great thing to make when I’m busy around the house, tending to other duties.
Anyway, back to risotto. For the challenge, I opted to make two risottos – one savory, one sweet. The savory risotto was straightforward – nothing fancy, just quality ingredients throughout. I was glad I kept it minimalistic, as I think this was the best risotto we’ve had to date. Sometimes, simplicity wins.
As for the sweet risotto, I would like to try again at tweaking the recipe further. In spite of the combination of flavors, the resulting risotto was rather one-note. I think adding the lemon zest towards the end of cooking would have made a difference in the brightness of flavors, and I may try for that next time. I also would love to try to add cardamom to the spices for additional depth of flavor. Still working on it, so if I come up with an amazing version, I’ll definitely share it with you!
1 lb chicken feet
1-2 lb chicken bones (leftover roasted bones are even better than raw)
1 onion, cut in half (don’t bother to peel)
2 carrots, chopped roughly (don’t bother to peel)
2 celery stalks, chopped roughly
1/4 c parsley (you can even use stems)
2 rinds from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (if you have them)
Place all items in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 4-5 hours, or until reduced nearly by half. Strain to remove bones and vegetables. Pour in glass jars and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight. Scoop fat that has solidified on the top of the stock. The stock should be nice and gelled. You can freeze for months, or use within a week if refrigerated.
5-6 cups chicken stock
2 T olive oil
2 T butter, divided
2 T minced onion or shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c Arborio rice
½ c white wine
¼ c parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ c fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Warm stock in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Keep warm.
In a large, shallow pan, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. When melted and starting to bubble, add onion. Saute for 3-4 minutes and add garlic. Saute an additional minute. Add Arborio rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until grains are turning white. Add white wine and stir through rice, cooking until nearly dry. Add 1 ladle of warmed stock and stir often, cooking until nearly dry. Repeat this process until the grains of rice are plump and start to give off a creamy texture (this should take about 20-30 minutes). You won’t have to stir continuously, but you should be stirring the rice at least every minute or so. When grains are just shy of al dente, add just a bit more stock, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and the parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve when rice grains are al dente, but not mushy, garnished with a bit of parsley.
1-2 T butter
1 c Arborio rice
1/4 c marsala
2-3 c milk plus 2 c water, warmed
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 c golden raisins
1/4 c currants
zest of 1 lemon
3-4 T agave nectar
3 T mascarpone cheese
1 T amaretto liqueur
1/4 c chopped almonds
In a large, shallow pan, heat butter over medium heat. When melted and starting to bubble, add rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until grains are turning white. Add marsala wine and stir through rice, cooking until nearly dry. Add 1 ladle of warmed milk/water mixture, vanilla bean, cinnamon, raisins, currants, agave nectar and lemon zest and stir often, cooking until nearly dry. Add another ladle of milk/water mixture, and repeat this process until the grains of rice are plump and start to give off a creamy texture (this should take about 20-30 minutes). You won’t have to stir continuously, but you should be stirring the rice at least every minute or so. When grains are just shy of al dente, add just a bit more milk/water and the mascarpone cheese. Taste and season with additional agave nectar as needed. Serve when rice grains are al dente, but not mushy, garnished with chopped almonds.