Risotto doesn’t take a tremendous amount of skill, just some quality ingredients and diligence. Since the time I first made it in May, this dish has quickly become a go-to for nights I want to make something a little special (but not expensive!) for dinner. Date-night-in recipes can be hard to come by, so I wrote the recipe for two, but you can easily double it for a family or double date! The trick to risotto is slowly cooking the rice, adding stock a little at a time, which allows the rice’s natural starches to come out and make it super creamy. Because it’s a simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is extra important. The good folks at Bellina Alimentari gave me ingredients from their market for this post.
I first got to know Bellina Alimentari when I helped with the pasta ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening day of the Ponce City Farmers Market on the Beltline. They reached out to me afterward about touring their market and cafe, which I had only admired from afar. Their space in Ponce City Market includes a market with small batch goods imported from Italy, a wine bar/cafe featuring natural wines, and a space for cooking classes. I learned that they’re not only committed to hand picking artisanal products from Italy, but they’re also committed to sourcing all of their fresh ingredients and produce from local farmers here in Georgia. It was for all those reasons that I was super excited to start teaching classes in their space and why I wanted to share more about them with my readers.
When my friends at Bellina found out that I’d never made risotto before, they quickly put together an amazing care package with almost all the ingredients I’d need: carnaroli rice, porcini mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and Italian olive oil. To be quite honest, I think I was intimidated to try my hand at risotto because of too many failed attempts I’ve seen on Top Chef. But I’m so glad I got over that because it’s one of my new favorite meals to make!
This is a basic risotto recipe, to which you can add whatever you like or have on hand: garlic scapes and asparagus in the spring, roasted garlic and tomatoes in the summer, butternut squash in the fall; you name it! Or try porcini mushrooms and shrimp for what the Italians call risotto mari e monti (sea and mountains). See the notes below for some options.
Porcini mushrooms: soak ½ cup dried porcinis in 3 cups of boiling water for at least 15-20 minutes (this can be done while you prep the rest of your ingredients). Once the water has cooled some, gently rub the mushrooms to remove any grit. Let the grit settle to the bottom, then pour off the top 2 cups of the soaking liquid. Use it to replace 2 cups of stock, adding it to the saucepan in the first step. Chop the soaked porcinis and add them to the rice about halfway through cooking (10 minutes in). Fresh mushrooms should be sauteed or roasted separately and added after the rice is cooked.
Shrimp: add raw, peeled, deveined shrimp to the rice in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking. About ½ pound would be plenty for two servings.
Bacon, pancetta, or guanciale: dice meat and saute in butter until fat is rendered and meat is beginning to brown. Drain off excess fat before adding onion and proceeding with the basic recipe; 2-4 ounces of smoked meat can add a ton of flavor to the dish.
Spring vegetables: quick cooking greens and vegetables, like arugula, kale, or fresh peas, can be stirred into the rice in the last few minutes of cooking time. Vegetables like fennel, leeks, green garlic, carrots, or turnips can be sauted with the onions at the beginning (or leeks could replace the onions). Mushrooms and asparagus are best cooked separately and added at the end.
Summer vegetables: tomatoes can be sauteed with the onions, added raw as a garnish, or roasted separately and stirred in at the end. Summer squash, zucchini, and eggplant are best cooked separately to achieve your desired texture, then added once the rice is cooked.
Fall vegetables: most root vegetables and winter squashes are best if sauteed or roasted separately because their cooking time is longer (plus the browning from roasting is delicious!)–add them as a topping or stir into rice after cooking. Stir in ½ cup roasted and pureed winter squashes (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc.) at the end with the cheese and butter.
Herbs: I prefer to add most fresh herbs–like basil, oregano, tarragon, mint–at the very end as a garnish, but woody herbs like rosemary and thyme can get stirred into the onion and butter at the beginning. Dried herbs should be added in the beginning as well. For more herbaceous flavor, simmer the stock with a bundle of herbs beforehand. Microgreens and edible flowers are also great garnishes.
Caramelized onions: saute onion with a big pinch of salt in butter and/or oil over medium low heat, stirring often, for 30-40 minutes or until onions caramelize. Add onions as topping to risotto.