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Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing Flavorful Risotto Successfully

March 08, 1990|JOAN DRAKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are innumerable variations of risotto, but the key to success in preparing each recipe begins with selecting the correct type of rice. Arborio, a short-grain rice grown in the Po Valley of Northern Italy, is preferred for risotto because it absorbs liquid and becomes tender, yet retains it's texture.

Arborio rice is available at Italian grocery stores and specialty food markets. It should not be washed before cooking because the starch in the rice adds to the creaminess of the finished dish.

Another important factor in making risotto is the pan used for preparation. One that has a heavy or insulated bottom is ideal--it allows the mixture to cook without the rice sticking or scorching.

Begin the cooking process by bringing the broth to a simmer in a separate large saucepan. It should be kept slowly simmering as it is added to the rice mixture.

At the same time, saute the minced onion in butter and oil (Step 1) in the heavy pan. The rice is added (Step 2) to this mixture of fats and flavorings, called a soffritto, then stirred until the grains are coated and translucent.

Add the simmering broth in small amounts (Step 3), allowing the rice to absorb each half cup before adding more. Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, to keep the rice from sticking and distribute the liquid evenly (Step 4). Add more liquid when the spoon pulled across the bottom of the pan leaves a wake.

If the heat is too high, the liquid will evaporate too quickly and the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan. Too low of heat and the rice will absorb more liquid, lose firmness and the sauce will not be creamy.

Liquid amounts used in making risotto are approximate. With a little practice you'll develop a feel for the exact amount needed, reducing the broth if the mixture is too liquid or adding more if it becomes too dry. Total cooking time also varies, but 25 to 30 minutes may be used as a guide.

A final addition of broth, butter and Parmesan cheese are added (Step 5) and stirred in vigorously (Step 6) until the butter melts. The finished product should be rice cooked al dente, bound together with a velvety sauce. Serve immediately as a first course, light entree or accompaniment.

BASIC RISOTTO

5 1/2 cups chicken broth, about

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1/3 cup minced onion

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place broth in saucepan. Heat to simmering.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter with oil in 4-quart saucepan with heavy bottom. Add onion and saute 1 to 2 minutes. Do not brown.

Add rice and stir until grains are well coated. Begin adding simmering broth, 1/2 cup at time, reserving about 1/4 cup. Cook over moderate heat until liquid is almost completely absorbed, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, before adding next 1/2 cup liquid.

Continue cooking approximately 25 to 30 minutes, until rice is tender but still firm and mixture has creamy texture. Turn off heat, add reserved 1/4 cup broth, remaining 1 tablespoon butter and Parmesan. Stir vigorously to combine with rice. Makes 4 servings.

Note: 1/2 cup white wine may be substituted for part of chicken broth. Use as first liquid addition to rice.

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