I’ve always known how to cook: in my family, if you could mow the lawn, fold your own laundry, or complain loudly at the table about how you hated asparagus, you were old enough to start cooking dinner for yourself. You know those families whose dinners consisted mainly of fast food take-out or trips to the neighborhood Applebee’s? That certainly wasn’t our family. We went out to eat once a year, as a celebration of the school year ending, to a buffet that featured a make-your-own sundae bar—as close to heaven as you can get, in my book. Other than that, we never ate out. Never. Even when my mom was having one of those days and the last thing she could muster was the energy to cook for seven children, she still managed somehow to make it work. And when I say make it work, I actually mean put us to work, once we were old enough to reach the knobs on the stove. Oh, how I envied the kids who knew the McDonalds Happy Meal choices by heart (“#3, please!”) or who enjoyed pop tarts for breakfast. These were the same kids who ate a school lunch of rectangle pizza and chicken nuggets while I sat two tables over with my bologna sandwich. Homemade wasn’t trendy or health-conscious in my household–it was a fact of life, and maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to appreciate what I had. At the very least, mom taught me the fundamentals of cooking from a young age, and I have her to thank for never having stepped foot in an Applebee’s.
This risotto recipe marked my departure from the cooking techniques I learned as a kid. It was my timid crack at a world that I perceived to require more thought, more sophistication, and significantly more wine (in this case, champagne) than the one in which I’d grown up. I didn’t know before I started that risotto was infamous for being time-consuming and unforgiving to those who looked away from the stove for even a second. I just knew that the pretty lady on the food network made it sound delicious and challenging enough for me to stretch my budding culinary wings.
So, armed with the ingredients listed below and a certain amount of naiveté, I headed to my friend Brandon’s house where he was preparing meatballs from another food network chef. I remember he didn’t have the cooking tools I wanted or any advice to offer as he had never made risotto himself. Instead, he kept me company with a glass of wine and good conversation, and, somehow, the risotto turned out perfectly. I don’t know where I would be as a cook if this first attempt had not gone well. I definitely wouldn’t have the confidence I do now to try new things or the desire to keep expanding my abilities and my trove of recipes. So praise the Contessa it came out as it did. Brandon and I sat there, snarfing the risotto and meatballs, raving about how creamy the dish was and how well it paired with the wine. This risotto recipe became a part of my growing repertoire, and I would introduce it to those in my life when I wanted to make them something simple but special.
This isn’t the dish to make when you’re throwing a dinner party and need to be out there mingling. Nor is it the dish to make when you’re starving and need to provide your body sustenance. This is the dish you make when you want to impress that special someone on a fifth date and you’re cooking them dinner for the first time. Or when you have three dear friends over, and the purpose of the night is to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company. And this is absolutely the perfect dish to make when you want to treat yourself to a sophisticated yet simple dinner, a glass of that sparkling wine you used in the recipe in one hand, and your favorite food network personality rerunning in the background.
- 4 Tablespoons of butter, divided
- ¼ cup of minced shallot
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1 cup sparkling wine/champagne (you should want to drink it, so Cook’s will NOT do)
- 4-5 cups chicken stock (a good vegetable stock will also work if you want to make it vegetarian)
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 pound of asparagus
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven on the stovetop at medium heat.
- On a separate burner, place the chicken stock in a saucepan and heat to simmer. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and melt it.
- Once melted, add the shallots and cook until softened, browning lightly at the edges. Once browned, add the Arborio rice. Cook for approximately 2 minutes. Here you toast the rice, a crucial step that allows it to release its starches as you later add liquid.
- Stir the rice frequently, and once it has lightly browned, add the champagne. Take a moment to enjoy the sizzle as the alcohol meets the hot pan and deglazes it. Once this champagne has reduced almost completely, begin adding stock. Do not rush this stage of the cooking.
- Add approximately ⅓-1/2 a cup at a time, or a ladle full, depending on what tool you use. Stir this liquid in. Once it has reduced, continue adding the liquid in, ½ a cup at a time, usually every couple of minutes. Stir frequently as it is the stirring that helps release the starches.
- Once you’ve added about 4 cups of stock, taste the rice. If it is still too al dente, add a little more stock.
- Once the liquid has been added and almost completely absorbed, remove the pan from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter and ¾ cup of the parmesan cheese, until melted and fully incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the diced roasted asparagus, folding in gently.
- Sprinkle reserved parmesan on top and serve.
- Asparagus prep:Trim the ends of the asparagus and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly drizzle the spears with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees until bright green, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Don’t over cook as the asparagus is best with a slight bite. Set aside until slightly cooled and chop into 1” pieces to incorporate into risotto.