One of my favorite dishes, hands down, is risotto. Stirring the rice frequently creates a luscious, creamy sauce, and the Italian dish pairs extremely well with assertive flavors. My favorite risotto to make is a lemon risotto with parmesan cheese and fresh thyme (pictured). I’ve realized that people who chaperone their food a lot (a la helicopter parenting) succeed at making the best risotto – like my boyfriend. He cooks when he’s hungry, and he’s impatient until it’s done. That being said, he loves to stir to pass the time…and since risotto requires a lot of attention and stirring, it’s the perfect dish to keep him occupied while I figure out the rest of dinner!
Two key factors for making the best risotto are:
- Heat your stock to a low simmer on the stove top so when you add the stock to the rice, it doesn’t stop the cooking process.
- Never use water for cooking the rice – stock only! You want to infuse the rice with as much flavor as possible. I suggest a vegetable stock for the best (vegetarian-friendly) result, but a lot of professional cooks use chicken stock (also acceptable).
I’m going to provide a recipe for my favorite lemon thyme risotto, but feel free to play around with strong flavors that compliment each other well! Some other suggestions are asparagus and parmesan, tomato and basil, or lemon and garlic. I’ve made a broccoli cheddar risotto before too, which was very delicious (if a little less traditional).
Lemon Thyme Risotto
- 1 lemon, zested and cut in half (reserve zest separately)
- 1 cup arborio rice (available in the international section of most grocery stores)
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you must)
- 1/3 cup white wine – any kind will work
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 of a medium onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
Begin by heating a large saute pan over medium heat with the butter. In a stockpot, heat up your stock to a low simmer. Add the onion and sweat until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and the rice and stir to coat evenly in butter. Let the rice brown briefly in the pan, then add the wine. Once the wine is absorbed, begin adding stock slowly (about 1/4 cuip at a time). As you add the stock, stir the rice well. The nice thick sauce is created by the grains of rice rubbing together and releasing their starch, so the more you move the grains around, the better the final product will be. Continue the process of slowly adding stock and stirring fairly constantly until the rice is tender and the sauce is thickened (about 25-30 minutes). Depending on the weather, you may not need all of the stock – your best bet is to taste test a grain of rice to see if it’s done. After the rice is done, hit it with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, the zest of the lemon, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, and thyme. Stir well, and it’s ready to serve! I suggest topping it with toasted pine nuts or toasted almonds for texture and protein.