At the young age of 18 my grandmother left home. She was unable to cook despite living in an Italian household. She realized that she didn’t have her mother to make her delicious Italian meals so she decided to teach herself how to cook. Now 60 years later she is one of the best cooks I know. She learned all of the basics of Northern Italian cooking form by Marcella Hazan and Giuliano Bugiali as well as her mother. One of her signature dishes is risotto and whenever I eat this classic Italian rice dish it reminds me of her and what real Italian cuisine is. This authentic risotto recipe comes from Marcella Hazan. Risotto is an Italian rice dish where liquid is slowly added to the rice allowing it to release starch to create a creamy consistency. Risotto is the epitome of Italian comfort food; it has that decadent stick to your ribs flavor and consistency. It’s also one of those “kitchen sink” recipes , because you can put anything in it. I’ve made mushroom, sausage, and seafood risotto, but my favorite is this beef risotto. This risotto gets its flavor from pancetta (italian bacon), rosemary, sage, and good italian red wine.
People often think of risotto as something that is very difficult and only available at high end restaurants. It’s interesting how in it’s transition from Italy to America, risotto went from a homey comfort food to a glamorous dish served for $30 a plate. The truth is that risotto is very easy to make, it just requires good ingredients and a lot of babysitting of the dish. The risotto basics you need to know to make a good risotto are that it starts with caramelized onions and garlic then the rice is coated in oil and small amounts of liquid are added at a time while constantly stirring the rice. The constant stirring and slowly adding in liquid are where most people take mistakes, because they aren’t being patient. Risotto is a dish where lots of love needs to be added. Making risotto is definitely an arm workout, but the reward of a good risotto is well worth the 30 minutes of constantly watching over the risotto.
A risotto dinner is always something to look forward too, but I’ve found the next day is even more exciting. I always save about ⅓ to ¼ of the risotto and stick it in the fridge overnight. The next day for dinner, I like to make arancini. Arancini are fried balls of risotto with a gooey cheese center. Arancini have a crispy outside with a creamy risotto filling and gooey cheese at the center, what could be better?
- 7 cups water mixed with 2 tbsp “Better than Beef Bouillon”
- 2 cups Italian Arborio rice
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped pancetta (plus more for garnish)
- 1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage (plus more for garnish)
- ½ pound ground beef chuck
- 1 cup Barolo wine
- Bring broth to slow steady simmer
- In a large wide pot heat 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, pancetta, and onions over medium heat.
- When pancetta starts to brown and get crispy and onions are starting to caramelize add in garlic and herbs and cook for another minute.
- Add in ground meat and brown.
- When meat is browned add in wine and cook down until it is reduced to a thin film on the bottom of the pan.
- Add in rice and stir coating the rice evenly.
- Add in ½ cup of broth and stir. When the broth has evaporated add in 2/3 of a ladle of broth and continue stirring.
- When the ladle of broth has evaporated add in a generous 1/2 ladle of broth and keep stirring. ProTip: Risotto requires constant stirring and babysitting.
- Continue cooking slowly adding in ladles of broth as they evaporate and stirring constantly. ProTip: Drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan and if the risotto doesn’t fall back into place to fill the pan it is time to add more broth.
- Cook until the rice is done but still firm, and the starches have slowly released creating a creamy risotto, about 25 minutes. Add in a final ladle of broth along with 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with fried sliced pancetta, fried sage leaves and olive oil.
To make arancini, heat a deep fryer to 375. Scoop and roll chilled risotto into golf ball sized balls with a small piece of cheese in the middle. ProTip: Use a cheese that melts like fontina. Set up a fry station with a bowl of egg-wash and a bowl of panko breadcrumbs. Roll balls through egg wash first then coat with panko and deep fry until golden brown. Salt as soon a the arancini are out of the oil and enjoy.