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A Cobbled-Together Risotto

A couple of semesters ago, I was invited to a Friendsgiving with a new group of friends at school, and, lo and behold, it was a potluck!

Lovely!” I thought, “I know how to cook, this should be no problem!

What I failed to take into account was that I didn’t have time to go grocery shopping. My risotto-making was a bit of a disaster, but in honor of so many students’ return to campus in such a chaotic time, here’s the recipe I used and everything that ensued:

The Recipe: BA’s Best Risotto

Quite a basic recipe, if a bit time intensive, but I was really underprepared.

  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more
    • This I had. I’m not a complete fool.
  • 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
    • Again, had this. I actually had 4 bottles of different qualities of olive oil in my dorm room, and my roommate thought I might have a bit of a problem in continuing to collect them. Nonetheless, prepared.
  • ½ large white onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
    • Did not have, I ended up swiping into the dining hall and pilfering approximately half a sliced red onion from the salad bar.
  • 2 cups carnaroli or Japanese sushi rice
    • This one I was semi-prepared for. I offered to make a risotto for this event because my mom gave me a half empty container of arborio rice that she was trying to get rid of during her last visit.
  • 1 cup dry white wine
    • COULD NOT FIND THIS FOR MY LIFE. I asked everyone over the drinking age I knew, to no avail, so I texted my friend Josh who knows way too much about food and he recommended, and I quote, “You need something acidic and fruity. Watered down vinegar will work, citrus juice or white grape juice would work.” I don’t have vinegar, but I did have Kedem Kosher grape juice (which is unsweetened) that I chug at every opportunity because it is objectively the best juice on the market.
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    • Stolen from the bread and butter section of the dining hall, smuggled out in a to-go cup
  • 1¾ cups finely grated Parmesan, divided
    • I used the crappy powdered stuff I bought for cheap at the local supermarket on my visit the week before.
  • Freshly ground black pepper
    • If you don’t have black pepper in your pantry: just, pull it together, man.
  • See notes on topping at step 7.

Step 1

Combine 1 Tbsp. salt and 10 cups water in a medium stockpot. Bring to a very bare simmer over medium heat.

I only had one pot, so I continuously microwaved water to keep it hot as I prepared the rest of my dish in my single pot.

Step 2

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium. Cook onion and a pinch of salt, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and starting to soften, 6–8 minutes. Add ½ cup water and cook, stirring often, until water evaporates and onion is sizzling in oil and completely tender, about 5 minutes. (Adding the water allows the onion to cook gently and thoroughly without taking on any color.) Taste onion; if it’s still firm at all, add another splash of water and continue cooking until meltingly soft.

This step was nice and easy, though I substituted a normal steel pot for a Dutch oven.

Step 3

Add rice and stir well to coat with oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until grains of rice are translucent around the edges and they make a glassy clattering sound when they hit the sides and bottom of pot, about 5 minutes. Coating the grains with oil before adding any liquid helps the rice cook evenly so that the outside does not become mushy before the center is tender. Add wine and another pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is completely evaporated, about 2 minutes.

This step also went well, with the exception that I used Kedem kosher grape juice instead of white wine, which ended up turning my rice a little purple. This doesn’t show here because the pictures are actually from a risotto I made with actual white wine about a week later.

Step 4

Reduce heat to medium, then add hot salted water to rice in ¾-cup increments, stirring constantly and allowing liquid to absorb fully before adding more, until rice is al dente and surrounded by fluid, not-too-thick creamy suspension, 25–30 minutes. It should take 2–3 minutes for each addition to be absorbed; if things are moving faster than this, reduce heat to medium-low. Gradual absorption and constant agitation are key to encouraging the starches to release from the risotto, creating its trademark creamy consistency. You may not need all of the hot water, but err on the side of soup rather than sludge. The finished texture should be more of a liquid than a solid. Start checking the rice after about 15 minutes; the grains should be tender but not mushy, with a slightly firm center that doesn’t leave a chalky or bitty residue between your teeth after tasting. Do not overcook!

Each time, I cooked down the risotto until the a spoon dragged through the center left a clean path along the bottom, then added more hot liquid from the vessel in the microwave.

Step 5

Remove pot from heat, add butter, and stir until melted. Gradually add 1¼ cups Parmesan, stirring until cheese is melted and liquid surrounding risotto is creamy but very fluid. Stir in more hot salted water if needed to achieve the right consistency. Taste and season with salt.

My creamy risotto base!

Step 6

Divide risotto among warm bowls. Top each with a grind of pepper. Serve with remaining ½ cup Parmesan alongside for passing.

Instead of doing this, I dumped in all the cheese, reserved the risotto in my largest tupperware, cleaned the pot, and started on the topping.

Step 7

Fall: Browned Mushrooms with Thyme
Heat ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high until shimmering. Add 1 lb. mushrooms (such as shiitake, crimini, or maitake, trimmed, caps torn into 2″ pieces) and cook, tossing occasionally, until they begin to soften and release some liquid, 3–4 minutes. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook, tossing occasionally, until deeply browned and tender, 8–10 minutes. Add 5 crushed garlic cloves2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, and 4–5 sprigs thyme and cook, tossing occasionally, until garlic softens and butter is golden brown, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and add 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat, scraping up any browned bits from surface of pan. Pluck out thyme sprigs. Spoon mushroom mixture onto BA’s Best Risotto.

Because this recipe was for Thanksgiving, I chose the fall topping. I took a pound of baby portobello mushrooms from the salad bar at the same time I went to get the onions. I begged for some pre-sliced garlic from the pasta bar, used spare butter from the toast bar, and happened to have thyme leaves on hand. Lemons for the finish were taken from the tea bar. (Yes, my college dining hall probably has too many “bars.”)

After my mushrooms cooked down, I reintegrated them into the risotto in the tupperware and brought the whole giant dish to the event in question.
The finished product surrounded by the contents of my messy dorm room desk.
I also made the same recipe again right after Thanksgiving break, this time with real wine (though everything else was similarly pilfered from the dining hall), and it fed me for three days.

My conclusion after making this recipe was that it was tasty, easy to make, and easier to pilfer the ingredients for. One swipe into the dining hall with a to-go container gave me enough food for three days of lunches and dinners, which seems like a perfect deal for a struggling college student (so long as you can find a way to get rice). The original dish also got rave reviews at Friendsgiving, despite its purple tinge and the fact that I used Kosher grape juice and some lemon wedges instead of wine. All in all, I’d definitely recommend this recipe to my fellow college students trying to eat well on a budget.

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