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Tips for Risotto

So, you want to make arancini.... My advice? Start a day early and get your risotto and ragu all ready to go. Unless you want to spend your whole Sunday working in the kitchen (hey, sometimes there's no better way to spend a Sunday!), then getting these elements ready ahead of time will make the actual arancini prep pretty painless.

Both ragu and risotto are more about trying things out and nailing down the technique, rather than worrying about following recipes precisely, ingredient-wise. Be willing to experiment a little with what you have on-hand. I'll talk through the process of making risotto first and will add some trusty links to actual recipes for trying it out. Once you've made a great risotto or two, you'll never forget how it's done! Check back soon for a similar list of tips on ragu.

Making Risotto

If you watch any cooking shows, you've undoubtedly heard Tom Colicchio or Gordon Ramsay tell someone that risotto isn't easy to pull off. But, as Gordy says, "rizz-uh-toe" (I like to say it like this when I'm acting extra chef-like) is so versatile once you "crack" it, so don't be afraid to just dive in and give it a whirl. Here are some things to remember:

1. You have to use a glutinous rice (note that this is different from dietary gluten, the protein found in grains like wheat and barley and eliminated from a diet when someone is "gluten-free"). Traditionally, risotto uses arborio rice, but I've actually used Korean short grain rice too. Long grain varieties like Jasmine rice aren't as sweet and won't release enough, er, stickiness, I guess you could say.

2. Step one is bringing your liquid to a simmer. The key with risotto is adding in your warm liquid, one ladle-ful at a time. If the liquid is too cold, you'll shock the grains and you won't get that soupy consistency. If it's too hot, you'll cook your grains too quickly. Make sure that, before you start working with your rice and seasonings, that your stock is at a gentle, steady simmer. (The exception to this rule would be wine, if you're using white wine. If that's the case, get it to room temperature and pour it in before any other liquid and allow it to absorb, as described in #5.)

3. Next you want to build the basis of your risotto's flavorings with care. Begin with gently heated butter or oil, into which you then toss shallots or onions. Remember to season here and remember that you don't want to brown your vegetables, but simply coax out their liquid and concentrate their flavor. Cook until the veggies are soft and translucent.

4. That's when you'll add your rice, stirring and stirring until it, too, begins to turn translucent. You might see this described as "toasting" your rice and it's just another step in building flavor.

5. Now the party's getting started. Ladle by ladle, you'll add liquid. As you pour in one portion of liquid, stir constantly to the point that the rice has almost absorbed all of the stock, but isn't quite sticking to the bottom. Then pour in your next ladle-ful. Stir. Continue until all of your liquid is gone and make sure that as you stir, you incorporate any grains that stick to the sides of your pot. As you finish, your rice will remain slightly firm in the center of each grain (al dente!), but will have developed a thick, creamy base.

6. You can now add pretty much anything else delicious that you want (well, maybe not gummy bears. Earthy vegetables like pumpkin, asparagus, peas or mushrooms are kind of the accepted route.), but don't forget to first finish off the rice with a bit of oil or butter, a hefty serving of Parmesan cheese, and, ideally, some fresh herbs. Finishing it is similar to finishing French-style scrambled eggs. You're mostly just making sure that the meal is creamy, tasty and ready for eating.

You can then eat the risotto as-is, or you can let it firm up and get sticky for next-day rice balls. Leftover risotto, like, microwaved, is pretty frowned-upon since it'll nullify all of that work you did to keep your liquid at the perfect temperature and build that creamy consistency, but no one's watching if day-old risotto's your thing. Similarly, I recommend making fancy risotto for its own sake before you made risotto for a rice ball's sake.

Ready for a recipe? Here are some trusty sources: Simply Recipes, The Kitchn (this recipe would be perfect for making rice balls), Lidia Bastianich, Mark Bittman 

Photo via Simply Recipes

Apple Crisp

Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls)