Crazy Good Risotto

If you have read the “About” page closely, you will be aware that I did mention something about posting recipes that have nothing to do with India. Just that they might have come across my path, I would have fiddled with them, found the results good and therefore, thought of posting them. So here is the first one in that category. My “crazy” good risotto. Risottos are notoriously time-consuming. I have probably made a risotto three times in the last twelve years. OK. Maybe a couple more times. Not because I don’t like them. I happen to love them. But the idea of standing over the stove for an hour, stirring and stirring a pot of rice does not appeal to me on a normal day.

But once in a while, the day is not normal and I have to make an exception. Because being Indian, and a Bengali to boot, there are three things about a risotto that appeal call to me. Firstly, the consistency. Oh boy! It’s like a kichuri or a nice thick lentils with rice, but without the lentils. You cook rice in a pot in a certain way, and voila! The rice attains this creamy texture that plays with the heart strings like nobody’s business.

The second thing that appeals to this Bengali is the fact that it has rice. Yes, I am a sucker for any dish which has rice in it. Does not matter which corner of the world it is from. Enough said.

The third thing that appeals to me is that this dish is so versatile. You keep the rice constant, but apart from that, you can change around almost everything else, add or remove vegetables, add or remove animal protein, add or remove some herbs and you still get deliciousness. You can adapt this dish to suit the season and what’s available in the market. Not to mention vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Yep, I like that.

Since I got the flu last week, I have had a craving for a creamy rice dish with small cubes of chicken in it. I had visions of a plateful of rice, nestling together in harmony with some chicken and enveloped in a subtle creamy blanket. I realize I have been using the word “creamy” a lot already. I have been obsessed with this word since last week, so bear with me, will you? Thanks! Also chicken figured in my daydreams a lot. Not a chicken curry. No, just something mellow and soothing.

So I figured that it was time to do something about my obsession. Time to make a risotto, I said to myself. But if you have ever read about risotto or made one, you know that the most critical thing about risotto is the rice. You need to have this particular kind of rice that is only grown in Italy. The most commonly available type outside Italy happens to be one called Arborio. So here is where the “crazy” part of the blog title comes in. I did not have Arborio or any other kind of risotto rice. Just because I don’t think of stocking up on risotto rice, ever.

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As you will know by now, I do not let such minor details stop me. I knew that what makes rice suitable for risotto is high starch content. What rice did I have at home that had high starch content? Why, jasmine rice of course! This rice from Thailand is so starchy that one could also call it sticky rice. Of course, the fact that it comes with a lovely aroma could only be a bonus right? In India, the closest equivalent would be the “new harvest” rice. What we in Bengal call “notun chal” or new rice.

So I cut up vegetables that to me said “spring is here”. I hung around the kitchen for an hour. And despite the jasmine rice, despite the fact that I did not stir the risotto as frequently as one is supposed to, the end result was excellent. The seven-year-old yelled, “Very Good!” and then went delirious with joy over the crispy chicken skin wafers that I had garnished the risotto with.

But don’t let the mention of chicken put you off, if you are a vegetarian. This risotto would be great without chicken. The secret is the wonderful mix of vegetables and herbs in it, and the fragrant rice.

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If it looks good, make it!

Recipe for Risotto with spring vegetables and chicken

Serves 3 people

Cooking time – an hour including preparation

Ingredients:
1.5 cups rice (classical risotto rice, or jasmine rice or any other starchy rice, preferably short-grain)
1 cup finely diced bell pepper (I used red)
1 cup chopped scallions or spring onions
1 cup chopped white or brown mushrooms
Half a cup finely sliced snow peas or any other kind of green beans or peas
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley and chives or any other fresh herbs
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (or two if you don’t want to use butter)
Half a cup of grated parmesan cheese (essentially cheese that is suitable for pasta, not pizza) you can add more cheese if you like cheesiness

Half a cup or one cup diced cooked boneless chicken (see below)
5 cups of water or vegetable broth, kept hot in a saucepan on the stove.

Process – Heat butter and oil. Add garlic, bell pepper, spring onions, mushrooms, beans (not snow peas) or peas if using. Saute until the vegetables look softened. Do not brown. Add the rice (do not wash the rice, just pick over to clean) and saute till rice is mostly translucent. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. Now add a cup of hot water or broth and stir well. Let cook on medium-low heat until liquid has almost evaporated. Add another cup and stir well. Let the rice cook, occasionally stir to make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Every time the liquid starts to dry off, add half a cup of liquid from the reserve and stir well. Continue till the rice is almost cooked. Add your snow peas at this point. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Add pepper to your taste. Now cautiously add as much liquid as needed to get a creamy consistency to your liking. Add the chicken and the cheese. Stir well and simmer for a couple of minutes.

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Freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese and parsley

Add your fresh herbs, stir and remove from heat.

Note about the chicken – I used some leftover chicken breast from a rotisserie chicken that I happened to have. I cut it into cubes and added to the risotto. I also toasted the skin under the broiler until it was crisp (about five minutes). If you only have uncooked chicken, then dice it raw, season with salt and pepper and a bit of flour. Quickly stir fry in a bit of oil until just cooked through (do not brown) and add to the risotto as usual.

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Risotto with spring vegetables and chicken chips

 

 

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