Risotto is one of my ‘go to’ dishes when I don’t feel like cooking anything elaborate. That may sound odd: risotto has a reputation for being a lot of work and easy to get wrong. And yes, when done badly, risotto can be a rather goopy mess. But it is not really very hard to learn the right technique and, if you use a pressure cooker, it takes no time at all to make. And yes, risotto is elegant, too, fit for a special occasion.
One of my favorite winter vegetables, Belgian endive, provides the flavor base for one of my favorite winter risotti. In my version, its slight bitterness is balanced by the sweetness of butter and cream, and enhanced by the savory of freshly grated parmesan cheese. It’s a nice, elegant choice for a Valentine’s Day candle-light dinner.
Serves two people
- 150g (3/4 cup) rice for risotto (see Notes)
- 1/2 onion
- 2-3 Belgian endives
- A good hunk of butter and a drop of light oil
- White wine
- A pot of broth (preferably homemade) on the simmer
- A few spoonfuls of heavy cream
- 50g (2 oz.) Parmesan cheese
After sweating some thinly sliced onion in butter and a bit of oil over gentle heat, add Belgian endive that has been trimmed, sliced down the middle and then thinly sliced across to produce a kind of chiffonade. Mix well and cover, allow the endive to braise with the onions until they are well reduced and have absorbed the flavors of the onion and butter. Do not allow them to brown.
Uncover and raise the heat a bit, add your rice (see below) and proceed in the usual fashion for making a risotto, lightly ‘toasting’ the rice, then bathing it with a splash white wine and then adding a rich, home-made broth, one ladleful at a time, until the rice is just al dente. (If using a pressure cooker, add all the broth all at once.) Add a bit of cream just before the rice is done, then, off heat, proceed to mantecare with grated parmesan cheese and, if you want a really rich dish, a dab of sweet butter.
While I used to use Arborio rice in the past for making risotto, just because it’s the easiest to find and also the least expensive of the three types of rice that lend themselves to a risotto treatment, I recently splurged and bought some vialone nano rice and was instantly converted! It has the incredible ability to absorb flavor—and that is, of course, what the risotto technique is all about—while not losing its texture. And it produces a creamy, but never stodgy, risotto every time. I highly recommend it. Vialone nano is a bit shorter than Arborio, almost round in fact. It is typical of the Veneto and recommended for risotti mantecati, less appropriate for soups.
The use of cream in risotti is not all that common—some even consider it taboo—and I am not keep on adding it too aggressively or too often. But in this dish, it works very well and, as I said, helps to balance out the bitterness of the indivia belga. I also like to use cream in a few other risotti, including ones made with radicchio, zucca and spinach, all vegetables that have a natural affinity for dairy products.