Risotto was one of the first “adult” recipes I ever attempted during my university years, back when even grilled cheese seemed ambitious. It’s not difficult to make by any means – in fact far from it – but it isn’t quick either. It requires constant stirring for a good 30 minutes, so if you plan to entertain your dinner guests with involved conversation, shadow puppets or pre-dinner juggling perhaps you should stick to rice or roasted potatoes as a side dish instead. I personally think it’s worth it and haven’t come across anyone yet who has passed up a plate of warm risotto topped with fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.
I had never even heard of risotto until being invited to a Slow Food experience at a friend’s house a few years ago. I’ve been known to eat like a prison inmate, purposefully focused on my food and quickly devouring, so I had my reservations about how I would cope with slow food. Unlike my misconceptions, slow food didn’t actually involve chewing each morsel for twenty minutes; but rather, sampling different dishes in different rooms over the course of five hours and pairing each dish with a glass of wine or aperitif. Or at least that was my friend’s take on it.
For Christmas one year I received a stacker cooking kit. It looks like a device that should have included Play Dough, though it is meant for food. It’s perfect for stacking veggies, rice – or in this case risotto – into shapes, and for layering various food like geological strata on the plate. I had some spinach and beets in my fridge so thought these would be good test subjects for stacking with the risotto. The result: a tasty and colourful tower of Italian delight. Enjoy!
Preparation and cook time: 40 minutes
(Serves 4 as a side dish)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 portobello mushroom, chopped small
1/2 cup brown mushrooms, chopped small
1/2 cup porcini mushrooms, chopped small
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh lemon juice, from half a lemon
2 medium beets, skinned, peeled, cooked, and chopped small into 1/2 inch pieces (3/4 cup, roughly)
1 tbsp butter
1 cup fresh spinach
Fresh lemon juice from other half of lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground pepper
1. Cook the beets until medium-soft and then set aside. Some people like to roast their beets. For this meal, I just boiled them, as it was quicker. I peeled them first and chopped them into quarters, then boiled – this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
2. In a large saucepan saute onions and garlic in the olive oil until golden and translucent.
3. Add mushrooms and continue stirring for another 3-5 minutes, until softened.
4. Add wine and stir for a minute. Then add rice and coat well with the liquid and oil, and after a minute add one ladle-ful of chicken stock, with the salt. Stir constantly, ensuring that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. When the liquid is fully absorbed, add another ladle-ful of stock at a time, until each has been absorbed. After about 25-30 minutes of this, taste test a grain of rice: the mixture should be creamy and the rice should be slightly hard but not overly so – al dente.
5. Remove the mixture from the heat and add a tbsp of butter and about half of the Parm cheese, stirring until melted. Add more or less of both depending on taste.
6. In a separate small saucepan or frying pan, on medium heat, heat up 1 tbsp of butter then add the washed spinach (with the stems removed). Stir until the spinach has just wilted – about 2-3 minutes. Add salt to taste and squeeze lemon juice on top. Remove from heat.
7. If you have a stacker, place it on the serving plate then add the risotto and alternate with layers of spinach, more risotto, and the chopped beets. Cover with more risotto, drizzle with lemon juice and shredded Parm.
If you don’t have a stacker, place a full ladle of risotto on each plate, topped with the cooked spinach, then with the beets, either cubed or quartered and drizzled in butter, lemon juice and salt.