Risotto sounds posh, but it’s a great value food and offers a splendid way to use up leftovers or clear out the fridge. Arborio rice can be found for as low as $1.69 a pound. To this basic recipe you can add virtually anything – a handful of leftover vegetables, shrimp, chicken, chorizo – whatever you’ve got that you don’t want. I once made a smashing risotto with leftover fixings from a pizza-making party.
In theory, water can stand in for stock, but it doesn’t yield the same flavor or silky texture. Toasting the rice in the fats without any liquid is a key step as it helps determine the final texture of the rice. Be sure to warm up the stock; adding cold stock to the hot rice will cook the outside of the rice, but not the inside, resulting in a hard, unpleasant texture.
At 40 cents for the rice, $1 per quart of stock (if you make your own; double it if you purchase), about 60 cents in white wine, 65 in cheese, plus staples or butter and olive oil, this makes a pot with enough to serve four people for around $4 to $6. A simple salad and baguette round it out.
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, heated
¼ cup grated Parmesean cheese
1 ½ tablespoons butter to finish
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter into the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the rice, stirring to coat it with the oil until the rice is hot, pearly white but not brown, about four minutes. Stir in the wine and let it reduce by half, about two minutes. Add one ladle of warm stock, about ½ cup, and stir until incorporated into the rice. Continue this process for about 15 minutes, then taste a grain of rice. It should have a slight resistance when chewed. If it seems too hard, add 1/4 cup more broth and continue cooking for another few minutes until broth has been absorbed. Remove pot from heat and let it sit about two minutes. Stir in the cheese and butter, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Risotto with wild mushrooms, chicken, lentils and arugula
This is an example of how dried mushrooms can be an economical pantry item for a punch of flavor. I bought a one-pound jar of mixed dried mushrooms for about $19.50, or 12 cents a pound. For this dish, I hand-selected about 1 ½ ounces of mostly chanterelles and reconstituted them in two cups of warm water – resulting in a lovely flavored liquid combined to the warm chicken stock to add flavor to the rice.
Raiding the fridge, I came across about a cup of leftover cooked lentils and the last of a bulk of fresh arugula. Here’s the result.
Basic risotto recipe (above)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups cooked chicken or turkey, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 ounces dried mushrooms
¾ cups cooked lentils2 ounces fresh arugula
Reconstitute the mushrooms in about 2 cups warm water for at least 15 minutes until mushrooms are softened. Drain, reserving the liquid. Chop the mushrooms into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Follow the standard risotto recipe, and toss in the thyme when cooking the onions. Substitute two cups of the chicken stock for the liquid from the mushrooms. As the last two ladles of stock are added, stir in the mushrooms, lentils, mixed herbs, cooked chicken and arugula. Add the butter and cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste.