Risotto Bianco [Or, Cheesy Rice=Therapy]

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Risotto is my therapy, the ultimate antidote to a bad day at the office. The rhythmic whack of my knife hitting the cutting board as I chop the onion, the warm smell of chicken stock simmering on a back burner, the slow figure-eights I make as I stir the pot with my wooden spoon—“You're home now,” they say, “Everything's going to be OK.”

Though risotto is often cataloged with more complicated dishes, the only thing remotely difficult is not walking away from the pot while it's cooking. Contrary to what Martha Stewart would say, even that rule is fudge-able as long as you don't leave for too long. Stepping away to pour yourself another glass of wine is fine; mixing a complicated cocktail not-so-much.

Beyond that, risotto isn't hard at all. In fact, it's remarkably easy-going. A little alcohol will deepen the flavor, but risotto isn't picky about what kind—vodka, whiskey, wine, beer—just pour in a glug of whatever you're sipping yourself. You can sub out basically any liquid for the chicken stock—think tomato or carrot juice. You can use the stock to thin pumpkin puree, and then add that as your liquid. You can also toss in solids, like diced apples or bits of mushroom, midway through the cooking process. Or you can throw in a handful of blue cheese crumbles or chopped nuts right at the end.

Here are some of our favorite add-ins to get your creativity started:

  • Apples, walnuts and blue cheese
  • Carrots, mint and pistachios
  • A fried egg with a few bacon crumbles
  • Pumpkin, sage, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flake
  • A few spoonfuls of pesto or tomato sauce

The recipe below makes a delicious risotto starting point, but don't be scared to give it your own twist. Particularly as fall and winter advance, you'll quickly find that risotto is a comforting friend.

Risotto Bianco (Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ onion, diced
  • about 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup alcohol (e.g. white whine, whiskey, beer, vodka)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh thyme

Directions

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced onion, stirring occasionally until it begins to go translucent—about 5 minutes is usually good. Meanwhile, pour the chicken stock into another saucepan and put it on a back burner over medium-low.

Add the rice to the pot with the onion and stir continuously for about 2 minutes, then add your alcohol. Stir until the alcohol is mostly absorbed, then begin adding stock slowly about ¼ cup at a time. Continue to stir, at least mostly continuously, and wait until your spoon leaves a clear wake in the pot before each new addition of stock.

You may use all the chicken stock, you may not. Keep adding it until the rice is tender, then add one last ¼ cup beyond that, just to keep the risotto a bit loose. Stir in the butter, then turn off the heat and add the Parmesan cheese. The risotto will be a little bland at this point, so add salt, pepper, and a palmful of fresh thyme leaves to taste. Then, pop a lid on the pot and let the risotto sit for just a minute or two before serving so that it can really meld together.