Risotto is worth the work


Entertaining: This version of the creamy rice dish requires a lot of stirring but little stress.

April 15, 2001|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Some dishes are a challenge to prepare, especially for entertaining, but if they are exceptionally good, they merit the effort. Risotto, the celebrated rice preparation from northern Italy, falls into this category.

Made by stirring simmering stock into rice (and often onions, too) which has been sauteed in butter, risotto is not a quick dish. The stock must be added slowly, about a half-cup at a time, and stirred until it has been completely absorbed by the grains. This technique usually takes about 20 minutes, and the cook must stand at the stove the entire time, constantly making circles with a spoon in the pot. The resulting rice, however, is rich and creamy, with grains that remain separate and firm.

Risottos can be flavored in countless ways, but arborio rice, a short, starchy grain, is always the type used. Best-known among risottos is the famous "Milanese," which is made with saffron-scented broth. For the spring risotto that follows, I cooked small pieces of bacon until crisp and then used some of the drippings as well as butter to saute chopped shallots and rice. I added simmering stock a little at a time until the rice was cooked to the right point. I stirred in white wine, sliced blanched young asparagus, parsley and cheese. For serving, I mounded portions in shallow bowls and garnished each with bacon and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Over the years, I have worked out a stress-free plan that allows me to prepare risotto for guests. I measure and prepare all the ingredients for my risotto and have them on a tray at the side of the stove. For example, the advance work for the spring risotto included cooking the asparagus ahead, grating the cheese and chopping the parsley. I also sauteed the bacon ahead of time. Then, when I was ready to cook the dish, I needed to do only two things: Saute the shallots and rice and add simmering stock to this mixture.

A mixed greens salad in an orange dressing plus garlic- and herb-topped Italian ciabatta bread (bought at a local bakery) completed our menu. Fruit and homemade cookies were a simple dessert.

Spring Risotto with Asparagus, Bacon and Shaved Parmesan

Makes 4 main-course servings or 8 first-course servings

1 pound slim asparagus


about 6 cups chicken stock

4 strips lean bacon (3 1/2 to 4 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 / 4 cup chopped shallots

2 1/3 cups arborio rice

3 / 4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus a 4-ounce chunk for shavings for garnish

1 / 4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cut off and discard tough ends from asparagus spears. Cut spears, on the diagonal, into 1-inch pieces. Bring medium saucepan of water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt along with the asparagus and cook until tender, only 3 minutes or less. Remove, drain in colander and place under cold running water to stop cooking. Pat dry and set aside. (Asparagus can be cooked 3 hours ahead. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at cool room temperature.)

In medium saucepan over low heat, bring stock to a simmer and keep at a simmer.

In another large saucepan over medium heat, saute bacon, turning, until crisp and golden. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Heat until butter is hot. Add shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits in bottom of pan, for 1 minute. Add rice and stir to coat well for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup simmering stock and stir constantly until all liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding stock in 1/2 -cup amounts, cooking and stirring, and making certain each addition of stock is absorbed before next is added. When done, rice should be creamy but not runny, tender but still somewhat firm. You may not need all of the stock.

When rice is cooked, add wine and stir 1 minute more. Add 1/2 cup cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon butter and stir until melted. Stir in asparagus and parsley. Remove from heat and season as needed with salt.

Mound in 4 shallow soup bowls for main course or on 8 salad plates for first course. Garnish each portion with bacon and some shavings of Parmesan cheese.

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