Risotto: A Meditation

Become one with the spoon. (Image source)

In a twist that will surprise no one, I love risotto. Which is sort of strange because I don’t have it that often, but when I do I wonder why I don’t have it Every. Single. Night. 

I guess I forget about risotto as a dinner option, reaching instead for pasta or long-grain rice and the rice cooker.  #Easy

But here’s the thing: risotto is also very, very easy.

Deceptively simple, even.

That silky sauce that appears as you stir and stir and stir. 

Ignore those silly people who say you don’t have to stir. I have tried this, letting it sit and stirring “occasionally,” but the cooking experience is not the same, and worse, the risotto is not the same. Plus this: it’s okay to take 15 minutes to yourself. Blame it on the risotto. 

Remember this:

When you have time, meditate for 15 minutes. When you don’t have time, meditate for an hour.” ~Zen saying~

Alternately, take those 15 minutes and make them your Zen-loving bitch by multi-tasking a crisp glass of wine, a little meditative stirring, and a delicious dinner at the end.” ~Me~

The decadent finish of butter. The tiny crunch in the very center of each grain of arborio rice, true al dente.


Use fresh, seasonal ingredients. Make your own stock (or buy it if you must, but be picky). Don’t forget the wine (in the pot and in the chef).

Free, Loose, And Easy Risotto (serves 4-6)

Mise en place, baby. Do it like you own it.

First, soffrito. This can be any combination of the following (but is at least the first): chopped onion, garlic cloves, leeks, shallots, carrot. Chop small (carrot, onion, shallot, celery), slice thinly (leek, white part only), or mince (garlic).

Next, measure your arborio rice, two cups.

Heat six to eight cups of stock. Use chicken, vegetable, beef, veal, seafood (so delicious with the seafood variation below).

Pour the wine. Half a cup of dry white wine for the risotto, a full glass for the chef. You can also use dry vermouth and pour yourself a different cocktail (any bourbon cocktail will do, but The Expat is lovely, especially with the seafood or squash risotto below. And because BOURBON.)

Salt and pepper should be within easy reach, as should a finishing generous tablespoon of butter. You will need some olive oil, the good kind, because with so few ingredients quality matters.

Basic method

Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add your soffrito and sauté until onions are translucent.

Add the arborio rice and toast, stirring, until each grain browns slightly and becomes covered with a glorious sheen of oil. Add more oil if you need it. Don’t skimp.

Settle in. Turn on the radio. Sip your cocktail.

Add the 1/2 cup of wine to the pot. Stir until the wine begins to disappear. Happy rice.

Begin to add your warmed stock, one ladle at time. Stir. When each ladle of stock is nearly absorbed (but don’t let it dry out), add another ladle. Stir. Repeat. Stir.

This is when meditation begins. As you add each ladle of stock, bubbles hiss and pop and steam rises. The rice swells with joy and dances in the pan. I sink into a pattern of stirring, swirling around the sides with my spoon in a clockwise pattern, occasionally darting through the middle.

You will know it is nearly done when your Teenaged Daughter crawls out of the cave of her room and hovers over your shoulder.

No teenagers at home? Look for the rice to slow down its rate of absorption. There will be a lingering creaminess to the sauce, and each grain will be nearly cooked all the way through except for the tiniest bit of bite in the center. 

Don’t guess. TASTE.

When the risotto has the texture of something far more complicated than it is, remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Add salt and pepper. Taste. 

Serve in bowls with cracked black pepper and fresh Parmesan. Not the crap in the green can. What are we: animals?


If you feel a bit more complicated, the following can be easily made with a minimum of fuss.

Shrimp/Scallop Risotto: Sauté eight ounces each of cleaned shelled shrimp and scallops in olive oil, then remove from the pan. Proceed with a soffrito of onion, and celery. Use seafood stock for the risotto, and finish with fresh chopped parsley.

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto: Peel, seed, and cut a one-pound (or a little more) butternut squash into 1/2″  cubes. Add butternut squash into a soffrito of onion, celery, and one clove of garlic and proceed with the recipe. Towards the end, before the butter, stir in one tablespoon chopped fresh sage. Finish as usual. 

Mushroom Pancetta Risotto: Add a sprig of rosemary to your warming stock (any kind of stock will do, but you will not use the rosemary in the actual risotto). Sauté four ounces of pancetta until crispy, then remove from the pan. Add 12 ounces of wild mushrooms (your choice) and cook in the fat of the pancetta (don’t crowd the pan or they will not brown. They will steam). Remove from the pan and proceed with onion, garlic, carrot soffrito.

What is your favorite kitchen meditation?

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