my first "adult" dinner party ("adult" in quotes as i was still living with my parents at the time) was nothing short of disaster. i was 20 at the time and had just returned from a trip to europe where i was studying painting in florence and gulfing down two or three pastries at a time during our breaks. six weeks and twelve pounds later, i came back to the states with a hunger to cook up and share all the great italian flavors my palate had experienced.
i invited two of my girlfriends over for dinner and planned a very simple menu of risotto and cheesecake (this was my first dinner party after all). i had never cooked risotto before and made three classic rookie mistakes. i started off with three cups of rice (mistake #1: arborio rice expands a lot and you definitely don't need one cup per person), only four cups of stock (mistake #2: arborio rice absorbs a lot of liquid) and didn't really do much stirring (mistake #3: when they say stir, they mean stir). in the end, i was left with white mush to serve with my friends. it took me 3 years before i got up the guts to throw another dinner party.
i have rebounded from that disastrous evening and have cooked and served risotto often. it has become one of my favorite comfort dishes taking me back to that summer in italy. i confess that it isn't a low-maintenance dish but worth the effort of every stir. i especially love the versatility of risotto. there are endless combinations and i've got well over a dozen in my repertoire but one everyone should have in their recipe box is a simple mushroom risotto. i finish mine with marscapone, giving the risotto an out of this world nutty creaminess.
so, go off and stir, stir, stir.
2 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
5 to 6 cups chicken stock
1.5 cups assorted mushrooms of your choice (i used portobello mushrooms in this recipe)
1/4 cup marscapone cheese
parsley, chopped finely for garnish
salt & pepper
pour chicken stock into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. it helps to have hot stock on hand as it helps the absorption process.
in a separate saute pan (four quarts is a great size), heat olive olive over medium high heat. add onions and saute until translucent, about three minutes. add arborio rice and cook with softened onions for about 2 minutes. add white wine and stir until liquid is almost all absorbed. ladle in chicken stock one and a half cups at a time*, remembering to stir often. i add a dash of salt with each ladle of stock to provide some additional seasoning to the dish. after about 4 cups of stock, add the mushrooms and finish cooking with the rest of the stock. the risotto is ready when the rice loses its opaqueness and has softened but still has a subtle bite to it. finish by folding in the marscapone cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. sprinkle on parmesan-reggiano and parsley and serve hot.
*an easy way to tell when the risotto needs more liquid is by doing the "runny liquids" test. use a wooden spoon to cut through the risotto. if the liquid runs back together, then keep on stirring. however, if it stays parted, then add another ladle of stock.