Despite a reputation of mystical proportions, risotto is not difficult to prepare. In fact, if you can make Rice-a-Roni, you can make risotto. The only difference in the preparation is that for risotto, instead of adding your liquid, covering your pan and walking away, you have to add the liquid incrementally - about a half a cup at a time - and stir into the rice until absorbed.
Now a couple of observations - risotto is, to this Jewish cook, a bit like preparing kasha varnishkes. Pretty easy, not too many ingredients, but requiring multiple pots to put it all together. Risotto also falls into that category of recipes Alton Brown refers to as "refrigerator velcro" - dishes like omelets and gratins - in which the only limit to creativity is the contents of your fridge. The basic risotto only requires some broth, a small amount of onion cooked in butter or oil, and the most important ingredient, Arborio rice. The finished dish is different than any other rice dish you have probably ever eaten. It is rich and creamy and comforting. I love long grain rice in all it's permutations, from plain buttered to Savannah red, and I also adore Asian sticky rice, but if you've never eaten risotto, you've never really eaten rice. The best risotto I ever tasted was in Bologna, Italy, over Thanksgiving of 2004. A curried seafood version which I have managed to recreate at home. I wouldn't even mind it as my Last Meal, should I ever require the need for a Last Meal.
My favorite risotto is a mushroom risotto, however, and this dish manages to elevate the humble white button mushroom to new heights. You can certainly use shittakes, which I love but tend to avoid because they are usually seriously overpriced, but I would avoid portobellos and their Cousin Cremini. I have lots of good things to do with Bella and Cremini, but they are too assertive for this otherwise delicate dish.
1 tablespoon butter
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
1/2 cup light or heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (I have started to use the curly variety rather than the Italian flat parsley)
6 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup minced sweet onion or shallots
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
First, prepare the mushrooms: in a skillet over moderate heat, melt the butter; add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to high and add the sherry. Cook until reduced by half, then lower the heat and add the cream. Cook another five minutes until mixture has thickened somewhat. Take off the heat and set aside.
Next, bring the stock to a bare simmer and hold it there.
And now, because you haven't already used a bunch of pots and pans, heat the butter and oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, but do not allow the onions to brown. Add the rice to the same pot and using a wooden spoon, stir for one minute, just until the rice grains are well coated with the butter and oil. Don't cook the rice any longer than one minute. Now start adding the simmering broth, about one-half cup at a time. Stir to prevent sticking, and wait until each addition of stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next half cup.
When most of the stock is used up, and the rice is tender, add the mushroom-sherry mixture, the Parmesan cheese, and the parsley. Stir well to completely combine with the rice.
Now, the eating part. I can eat this all by it's lonesome. My boys like it as a side dish with some kind of meat. Northern Italian chefs serve risotto with osso buco, and I personally think they should win the Nobel Peace Prize for that particular combination. If more people ate well-prepared risotto, they would smile a lot more, and be far less inclined to engage in warfare. World peace. It's a good thing. So is this risotto.