Just One Word: Risotto

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Risotto is my secret weapon. It was the first meal I cooked for the future Mrs. McManamy. It worked. Today I am celebrating my second anniversary and looking forward to many more.

    A loving relationship is far too precious to risk on plain old boiled rice or, for that matter, any other side dish. The lights down low and Sinatra belting out “Witchcraft” can only take you so far. Bring on the risotto, bring on the romance.

    McMan’s Romantic Risotto Essentials

    Buy short-grained Italian (Arborio) rice. These plump translucent grains possess a unique capacity to absorb enormous quantities of stock to yield a sinfully sumptuous creamy texture.
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    Use high-quality chicken stock, preferably homemade. The stock must be boiling hot and added very slowly to the rice while stirring gently.

    Flavor is king. Olive oil and onion go into the pot at the very beginning. This impregnates the grains with flavor (as does the stock). Parmesan and butter are added only after the dish is cooked, to enhance its creamy quality. Some optional ingredients such as shrimp are added early to impart extra flavor to the grains, then removed and added again later.

    Easy does it! Add the stock very slowly and stir just enough to blend. Keep the pan as hot as you can without setting off the neighbor’s smoke alarm.

    Getting Started

    Heat a large saucepan or medium-sized frying pan with olive oil. Toss in a chopped onion and sauté for about two minutes. Add half a cup (8 ounces) of Italian rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the grains with oil. Cook while stirring a minute longer. SLOWLY add just enough BOILING chicken stock to cover the rice. The contents of the pan should literally explode. As the stock is absorbed into the rice, you will keep slowly adding hot stock (some two cups or more in all) while gently stirring. Recently, I have been adding a squeeze of lemon, which takes the flavor to a whole new level.


    After about 20 minutes, a miraculous transformation takes place. Those tiny hard grains simmering in liquid become melt-in-your-mouth morsels luxuriating in a creamy sauce. Add a bit more liquid, and then take the pan off the heat to sit for a minute. Add a bit of light butter and Parmesan and stir.

    You may want to add Porcini mushrooms, shrimp, pesto, vegetables or any of a host of other great options. There is tremendous scope for the imagination here. I prefer keeping the risotto simple, with fresh basil for presentation. This is because I tend to use risotto as a side dish rather than a main course. As a main dish, risotto is best served in a bowl. As a side dish, I prefer shaping it into a heaping circle on a plate and topping with pan-fried chicken breast, sliced diagonally into three or four pieces. A fresh salad and Italian bread finishes off this perfect romantic meal for two.

    Optional Ingredient

    An engagement ring. How can she resist?

Published On: January 25, 2006