Risotto is a creamy Italian rice dish that I love to make, despite the careful attention and constant stirring it requires. Though I think the dish is worth the work, I've recently discovered that it can be prepared almost unattended in the microwave.
My microwave isn't used for much "real" cooking. Making popcorn, reheating leftovers and steaming vegetables are the workouts it usually gets. Though cooking risotto in the microwave doesn't save on cooking time, the appliance frees me up to do other things while the dish cooks.
Classic risotto starts by sauteing chopped onions and sometimes garlic and leeks in olive oil or butter until tender. Arborio rice, an Italian short-grain variety, is added and is sauteed briefly to coat each grain with flavor before ladlefuls of simmering stock are added. The stock is added in small amounts and the dish is stirred until the stock is absorbed. The process usually takes about 20 minutes of continuous stirring.
The onion is sauteed in the microwave in just a few minutes and then sliced fresh mushrooms are added and cooked a few minutes more. The rice is stirred into the mushroom mixture and returned to the microwave for a brief toasting. Rather than a little at a time, the stock can all be added at once in this microwave method.
Arborio rice used to be sold exclusively at gourmet stores, but now it is available on the shelves of supermarkets in bags or large screw-top containers. The short grains of this rice become plump and creamy when cooked, and should be cooked until there is still a hint of crunch in the center - al dente as the Italians call it.
This risotto is flavored with thyme, and for a heartier version you can stir in a cup of frozen green peas during the last minute of cooking. If your family doesn't like mushrooms, omit them for a delicious side dish risotto that pairs well with supermarket rotisserie chicken.
You also can improvise and come up with other variations. Try fresh or frozen corn in place of the mushrooms and add a little cooked, crumbled bacon or sauteed pancetta to the dish. Stir in some grated carrot and zucchini, tiny broccoli florets or chopped fresh spinach near the end of the cooking time and add diced fresh tomato just before serving for a vegetable-packed risotto primavera.
I serve the mushroom version as a meat-free entree, but it also makes a nice side to grilled steak or pork chops. A mix -greens salad tossed with your favorite zesty vinaigrette is a nice accompaniment.
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped, about ½ cup
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon thyme
1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups reduce-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup half-and-half
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
Melt the butter in a 4-quart microwave-safe glass measuring cup or other microwave-safe bowl. Add the olive oil and onions and microwave for 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in the thyme and rice and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the broth and cook for 9 minutes.
Stir in the half-and-half and cook for 6 minutes. Check rice for doneness and return to the microwave, cooking for 2 minutes at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Remove from microwave and let stand for 5 minutes before serving, stirring occasionally. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, as needed, stir in Parmesan and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 311 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 11 milligrams cholesterol, 1,405 milligrams sodium, 12 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Nutritional analysis provided by registered dietitian Rachel B. Drew, nutritional education specialist for the Richmond County School Nutrition Program, in conjunction with the Augusta Area Dietetic Association.
Coming next week: Big Linguine Bake is a new twist on standard spaghetti and meat sauce topped with a luscious creamy, cheesy topping.
See Karin prepare the recipe at noon Tuesday on WJBF-TV (Channel 6).
Write to Karin Calloway in care of The Augusta Chronicle Newsroom, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903-1928. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find previous Quick Cooking recipes through the online archive at augustachronicle.com/karin.
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