My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”
Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”
That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.
Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!
Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.
But then my brother comes to town.
You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.
There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.
But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.
And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.
The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.
Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.
I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.
After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.
Serves 3 to 4
So I think the reason everybody says they hate making risotto, and thus the reason it feels so intimidating for most people, all goes back to the stirring. Making risotto requires a lot of stirring. Like 20 minutes straight of it. That’s why this is a great recipe to make WITH friends or family, divvying up stirring duties among you.
But, one more note: one bite into this risotto (just like California’s, no kidding!), you’ll know it was worth the effort.
5 tablespoons butter, divided
2.5 cups shredded carrots (for us, this was about 10 peeled carrots chopped in a food processor)
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
5 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly shredded Pecorino cheese, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme
Pepper and more salt, to taste
CARAMELIZE THE CARROTS
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add carrots and stir with a wooden spoon until well coated. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon honey. Cover and cook for five minutes, until the carrots are tender. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, five to ten minutes more. Then, reserve half the carrots, and puree the other half with 3/4 cup hot water in a food processor.
Bring chicken broth to a simmer and keep it at a simmer, covered, over low heat.
COOK RICE, ETC
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the same (unwashed) pot that you caramelized the carrots in. Add the minced onion and cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice, stirring with a wooden spoon just long enough to coat rice with oil, maybe a minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and cook, stirring, until mixture no longer looks soupy.
Add the simmering broth in 1/2-cup increments: add 1/2 cup of broth, stir into risotto for a while until the rice absorbs most of the liquid, repeat. Keep doing this, stirring often, for about 20 minutes, until rice is al dente. You’ll have at least a cup of broth still in the pot.
ADD EVERYTHING ELSE
Fold in the reserved carrots, saving a couple teaspoons to use as garnish. Add ricotta, Pecorino, parsley and thyme. Add some of the remaining broth, 1/4 cup at a time, to loosen up the risotto, adding up to another cup of broth total. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle each bowl of risotto with some of the remaining carrots, parsley and Pecorino. Enjoy!
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.