Versatile and delicious, risotto is also surprisingly easy to make at home.
Classic risotto is made from either Carnaroli or Arborio rice. Short and plump, they are high in starch and can absorb quite a bit of liquid without becoming mushy.
Because risotto is cooked uncovered on the stovetop, a lot of liquid evaporates. Plan on about three times as much liquid as rice. And that liquid should be stock of some sort. Chicken stock is the staple, but use whatever stock you prefer--beef, vegetable, seafood. Canned stock is perfectly acceptable. Just watch the salt--it can become overpowering as the liquid evaporates. Choose low-sodium broth when possible.
The stock is your first base of flavor. Heat it up in a saucepan, as a warm stock will cook into the risotto more quickly and evenly. While that's heating up, sauté onions or shallots in a heavy bottomed pan. After those aromatics have softened, add the rice and "toast" it in the pan. You'll know it's ready when the rice turns translucent at the edges. If the recipe calls for any wine, add it now to continue building the flavor. The slight acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc blends wonderfully in a risotto.
Stir Crazy? Maybe Not
It's true, you can't abandon risotto on the stove and forget about it. Still, constant stirring is not necessarily required. Add the stock a little at a time--1/2 cup or so--and only add more stock when it is absorbed into the risotto. Keep the burner just high enough to barely simmer the stock and risotto. Keep close and stir it frequently. But you should have time to prep your next ingredients.
The risotto is done when it's just al dente--firm but not crunchy to the tooth. It should "shimmer" a little in the bowl--be fluid rather than a solid scoopful. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and anything else that strikes your fancy--prosciutto, cooked shrimp, steamed vegetable, sautéed mushrooms, or chicken. Stir in a pat of butter for extra richness.
Try Other Grains
Actually, any small, starchy grain can be cooked risotto-style, with delicious results. Try pearl barley, spelt, farro, even orzo pasta, and see what you think!