Got veggies that need cooking? Stir up a pot of easy, comforting risotto

Harvest season is the best time of year for produce at its peak, and with more home gardens growing this year — and stocking up at farmers markets — you may find yourself with a lot of produce to use right now.

It’s helpful, when you have fruits and veggies that are starting to wilt, to be able to look at what you have and come up with a few uses for it.

Soup is a great catch-all that doesn’t require precise measures or specific ingredients. You could toss just about anything into the pot and make it work.

Risotto is similarly flexible, and has become my current go-to meal. 

A bowl of risotto is fitting for a pandemic for many reasons: It’s comforting, inexpensive and built on a staple (rice) that’s affordable and infinitely shelf-stable.

You can add just about anything to it, and your produce doesn’t have to be particularly fresh and crisp; sauté some zucchini or mushrooms, grate in a raw beet, toss in whole or grated tomatoes or some leftover roasted squash.

You could add tomatoes of size and shape as the risotto cooks, and add greens at the end — they just need a minute to wilt. A squeeze of lemon at the end is delicious, too. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Cheese is always a good idea, and you can use your cheese ends. Risotto can contain meat but doesn’t require large quantities; it can also easily be made vegetarian or vegan. You could use stock, but water is also perfectly acceptable and does not produce a lesser risotto.

You could make a batch for one or two or 10, and only need to remember a general ratio: one part rice to about four parts stock or water. Start with a bit of onion, add a splash of wine if you like, taste as it gets close to being done. Beyond that, anything goes.

Easily make beet risotto by adding a grated raw beet, or some cooked and sliced beets, as the risotto cooks. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

And if you need another excuse to stir up a pot of risotto, leftovers can be rolled into balls around a chunk of cheese and fried to make crisp arancini — the very best lunch (or dinner) the next day. 

And though risotto has a reputation for being high-maintenance, you don’t really need to stand at the stove and stir constantly, just frequently. Stirring is what allows the rice to release its starch and make it luxuriously creamy (a knob of butter helps, too), but you don’t need to stand at its service for 20 minutes. (But even if you did, it’s kind of therapeutic to just stand and stare into a pot of risotto.) 

Blank-slate Risotto

Use leftover, chilled risotto to make arancini, which are balls of risotto wrapped around a cube of mozzarella, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried to crispy perfection. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Risotto is more method and ratio than recipe — use about 1:4 rice to stock or water, and go from there.

If you want to add mushrooms, sauté them at the beginning, as they won’t break apart too much as the risotto cooks.

Stir often and don’t walk too far away. It’s a perfect thing to make while puttering around the kitchen.

You could add tomatoes or a grated raw (or cooked) beet as the risotto cooks, and add greens at the end — they just need a minute to wilt.

A squeeze of lemon at the end is delicious, too.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 2 tbsp canola or olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter (divided)
  • ½ small onion or 1-2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup short-grain Arborio rice 
  • Splash of white wine (optional)
  • ½-1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 

Instructions:

Warm the broth in a pot or in the microwave, just so that when you add it to the risotto, it doesn’t cool it down each time.

In a large-ish saucepan, heat the oil and about a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until softened and any excess moisture has cooked off. Add the rice and stir it around for a minute or two, until nicely coated with oil and butter. If you like, add a splash of wine and stir until it cooks off. 

Add about half a cup of the broth and stir until it is absorbed. Continue adding broth a bit at a time, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently until the rice is creamy and tender, about 20 minutes.

When your rice is just tender to the bite, stir in the Parmesan and another knob of butter.

Season with salt, if it needs it — it may not, with the salty Parmesan and depending on the saltiness of the stock.

Arancini

To make sure the inner chunk of cheese in an arancini ball will be sufficiently melty, put them on a cookie sheet in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes or so. This is also a great way to keep the first ones warm while you cook the rest. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Ingredients:

  • Risotto, chilled
  • Mozzarella cubes
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3-½ cup canola oil

Instructions:

To make arancini, chill the risotto overnight.

Cut some mozzarella, provolone or other melty cheese into small (about ½-inch) cubes and shape a couple of spoonfuls of the risotto into a ball around it. Crack an egg into a shallow dish and beat it with a fork; put some panko or other dry breadcrumbs into another.

Roll the cold risotto into golfball-sized balls around a chunk of cheese, and roll each in the beaten egg, and then in crumbs to coat. 

To make arancini, first chill the risotto overnight, then cut up cubes of mozzarella and roll to create a ball around each cube. Dip each ball in beaten egg and breadcrumbs before cooking. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Heat an inch or so of oil (canola or another mild vegetable oil) until it’s hot but not smoking. If you have a thermometer, aim for around 350 F; it should sizzle around a bit of bread dropped in.

Gently lower a few arancini at a time into the oil and cook until golden on one side, then roll them around to cook on the other side.

If you’re concerned that the inner chunk of cheese won’t be sufficiently melty, put them on a cookie sheet in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes or so. This is also a great way to keep the first ones warm while you cook the rest.

  •  Listen to Julie Van Rosendaal’s full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener here:

    Calgary Eyeopener6:52Julie van Rosendaal on risotto

    Our food guide Julie van Rosendaal is excited about what’s in season and risotto! 6:52

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