3.26.10 Fit for a King

carnaroli rice
Risotto is one of those dishes that have been made to seem intimidating: all that stirring! the right rice! the stock! Newsflash: it's overrated. Not its deliciousness, that's indisputable, but its difficulty quotient. Simply assemble the right ingredients, have the patience to hang around the stove for 25 minutes or so, and you wind up with a rich, creamy bowl of goodness that works with so many different flavors. As for the right ingredients, it's really about the rice. A long-grain white rice is what you need for a classic risotto (although farro and barley make interesting variations), such as Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, known as the "caviar of rice." Riso Acquerello is a kind of Carnaroli grown in Piedmont, and the one used exclusively by Le Cirque for its famous risotto. In a unique process, it's aged for at least a year to develop its structure and ensure that the grains are polished to perfection. A high starch content allows it to absorb liquid beautifully, so the rice retains a toothy "al dente" quality while acquiring a creamy consistency—the two hallmarks of the ultimate risotto.

There are so many different possibilities for risotto: with saffron for a classic Milanese; with the first peas and asparagus of spring; with pureed squash stirred in; with porcini; and on and on. The recipe, below, is inspired by the Italian master chef Nino Bergese, whose Riso Mantecato is decadent with butter and requires absolutely no stirring at all. I've called my version Risotto da Re (The King's Risotto), because it's fit for royalty: unctuous, luxurious and taken to new heights with a spoonful of rich meat stock ladled on top. It was selected as an Editor's Pick on Food52, an honor of which I do not tire.
You can use top-quality stock from the store—perhaps frozen? or a reconstituted demi-glace? But maybe this is your moment to make your own, and to discover what a HUGE difference there is between the watery stuff made with "beef flavoring," and this rich, intensely aromatic and deeply colored stock that starts with roasted bones.
bone up
You can use top-quality stock from a specialty shop or good butcher's, or perhaps a reconstituted demi-glâce, but let this be the moment to make your own, and to discover that there's simply no comparison between the watery stuff made with "beef flavoring," and this rich, intensely aromatic and deeply colored stock. It starts with roasted bones and ends with a symphony of flavors.

Risotto da Re (The King's Risotto) with Rich Meat Stock

serves 4 as a first course
  • — 2 tablespoons butter, plus 1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, divided
  • — 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • — 1 large shallot, sliced thin
  • — 4 cups vegetable stock
  • — 1/3 cup rich meat stock (recipe follows)
  • — 1 1/2 cups Acquerello carnaroli rice (or other risotto rice)
  • — 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • — 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a deep pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil over low heat. Add the shallot and cook until golden and soft, about 20 minutes. Remove shallot with slotted spoon and puree in food processor until smooth.

Meanwhile, in two separate saucepans, heat vegetable stock and meat stock, maintaining just below a boil. Stir 2 teaspoons of butter into the meat stock.

Return shallot puree to pan, add rice and raise heat to medium. Stir rice well to coat and sauté for about 4 minutes, then add wine. When it's incorporated, begin adding hot vegetable stock in quarter-cup increments, gently stirring, and only adding more when it's been fully absorbed. The grains of rice will begin to swell.

Start tasting after you've incorporated 2-3 cups (you probably won't need more than 3). When finished, the risotto should retain an "al dente" texture with plump, individual grains. At this point, stir in the 1/2 cup butter and Parmesan.

To serve, plate risotto and create a small well in the center of each mound to hold a couple of spoonfuls of the hot meat stock.

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Beef Stock

makes about 6 cups
  • — 2 1/2 pounds pastured beef marrow bones
  • — 1 large onion, quartered
  • — 2 carrots, sliced
  • — 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
  • — 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • — 2 1/2 pounds pastured chuck, cubed
  • — 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • — 5 cloves garlic
  • — 2 bay leaves
  • — 3 sprigs thyme
  • — 3 sprigs Italian parsley
  • — 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the bones with cold water and pat dry. Place the vegetables in a single layer in a large roasting pan and add the bones on top. Roast, turning the bones a few times, until well browned; about 1 hour.

Transfer the bones and vegetables to a large soup pot, discarding fat from the roasting pan. Deglaze the pan with a couple of cups of water over high heat, scraping up all the brown bits. Add this to the bones, along with the cubed meat, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Pour in cold water to cover the bones and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a lazy simmer and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Do not stir. Add peppercorns, and continue to simmer very gently, partially covered, for 4-8 hours, skimming from time to time.

Cool stock slightly, then strain and discard solids. Cool to room temp and refrigerate overnight. The following day, remove fat that has risen to the top, and discard any debris that has sunk to the bottom. Salt before using or, if planning to reduce, wait to add salt until later. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several days, or divided into smaller quantities and frozen for future use, up to 6 months.

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rice is my weakness in life. my husb, (a v health-conscious person), doesnt eat rice at night- so i have cut down, too :( i like having company when i eat rice! i loved reading about the different rice in Italy. and i also really liked your recipe for stock- using beef marrow bones is a wonderful idea. congrats on the Editor's Pick! x shayma
shayma on March 27, 2010 at 7:15 am — Reply
Thanks, Shayma! And congrats again on your Food52 win for the delicious spinach borani! Would you ever consider subbing in brown rice once in a while? Maybe you can entice your man with that. ;-) I have a few kinds I really like. Hey, I think I'll do a rice round-up soon!
laura on March 27, 2010 at 7:53 am — Reply
Ran into this rice on the net with the Food52 theme, but couldn't find it easily. It would be really interesting to do a test of the same recipe with the different risotto rices...just to see if you could taste the difference, maybe some of it is cooking time? Yes, a rice roundup would be lovely. I have Bhutanese and Black sitting in my pantry waiting for the "perfect idea."
nakedbeet on March 27, 2010 at 11:25 pm — Reply
Gustiamo.com is a good source for authentic Italian ingredients. Check out their balsamico if you want to see an ingredient truly fit for a king. OK, stay tuned for the rice round-up! And thanks for stopping by.
laura on March 28, 2010 at 3:07 am — Reply