Risotto is one of those dishes that scares people. Somehow it’s considered a demonic culinary principle, a dish that’s reserved for restaurants and someone willing to stand over a steaming pot and stir, stir, stir, stir until their arm falls off. Who has that kind of discipline?
While there is some truth that risotto is time consuming, and does need attention, I’ve managed to make beautiful creamy pots of it by simply standing by, keeping the flame tempered and making sure the rice doesn’t stick. And I don’t focus on it diligently, spoon in hand, because I’ll tell you something that may force some die-hard, principled professionals to throw rotten tomatoes at me in dispute-
risotto does not need to be stirred constantly.
So there, I said it, and I will uphold this truth until the day I die. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve stood by that pot stirring until I am completely zoned out by the motion, and I’ve dumped in the broth, given it a couple of whirls with the spatula and walked away. Yes. I’ve walked away from risotto and lived to tell the tale. While this is no meal to get on the table quickly, with some time and a bit of care, you can make it without making yourself crazy.
And one comforting thing you ought to know about me, for as many pots of creamy perfect risotto that I have managed to get out of my kitchen, there have been plenty that have failed miserably. They’ve gotten over-cooked and mushy and just downright wrong. Both from being constantly stirred and not, just so you can’t point out a fault to my procedure. Make it perfect one time and you feel like a genius. You do it again, bursting with confidence of your skill and the next pot is like sloppy porridge. Ugh. My only suggestion to mastering risotto is to just make it. And make it again, and again and again because you will learn to watch the rice kernels and see how they change (whether you are stirring constantly or not) and you will see how it transforms with the broth and added ingredients from singular grains to a homogenous dish.
And please take comfort in the fact that this particular risotto that I’m going to talk about came out a bit overcooked.
But it tasted amazing, and that’s the focus of whatever risotto you make, whether the texture is perfect or not, think more of the taste and the flavors in your mouth and less that it needs to be some level of award-winning achievement. There is no such thing as perfection, especially in cooking. Risotto is one to never give up on, too.
This Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto was another Iron Chef moment for me; I needed a dinner plan, yet again at 3:30 and scanned the cupboards and fridge for options. There was arborio rice and there was a stack of sweet potatoes on the counter. And there was corn in the freezer. My brain suddenly jumbled this all together, along with the bright sunny curry colors and I sat down to determine the best way to make it work. I settled on shredding the sweet potato in order to incorporate it more evenly in the cooking process, and adding the frozen corn in the last 5 minutes to cook it just enough but to preserve some of the crispness of the kernels. The end result, despite being, like I said, slightly overdone, was a superb flavor, and so cheerful in our bowls.
Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto
The entire process for making risotto will take 35-45 minutes. For the last 15 minutes or so, you probably will need to stick close to the stove and stir more, but the first part of it can be somewhat unattended.
Many risottos use wine, and are finished with parmesan cheese. For this curry version, I did not use wine or cheese as I didn’t think it would match with the flavors of the curry.
1 c. arborio rice (or carnaroli works too)
2 qts chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves fresh garlic, divided
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated on a box grater
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1-2 T. curry powder
In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to a bare simmer with the fresh thyme sprigs, and two cloves of the garlic that have been roughly chopped. Stir and keep warm over low heat.
For the remaining two cloves of garlic, mince very fine. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or use butter, or both- that’s what I prefer) add the garlic and saute over medium heat until fragrant, stirring to prevent scorching. Add in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir to blend, then add in the rice. Stir to coat the rice with the garlic and curry powder, and cook, stirring regularly, until grains are somewhat translucent, about 5 minutes.
Ladle about two cups worth of the warm stock into the skillet with the rice and stir to blend. Maintain a gentle simmer, stirring on occasion, until the stock is absorbed. Be sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture should simmer gently, but never boil vigorously. When the grains have absorbed the stock, ladle in about 2 more cups worth. Repeat, allowing this to absorb and keeping the grains from sticking. You won’t need to watch it constantly, but stay close and just check it occasionally.
After the second round of stock is absorbed, add about a cups worth of shredded sweet potato to the rice, and a ladle or two of stock. You want to give it enough liquid to loosen it and allow it to simmer, but not so much as before. Stir and allow to absorb. Add another ladle, and repeat. Now test a grain or two. They should begin to yield to your bite, with some firmness remaining. Add in the corn, a few more ladles of stock and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Test the grains again. At this point, the mixture should look smoother and beginning to come together with a creamy sauce. Keep testing the grains and adding just a little stock if needed. If you like the idea of more curry flavor, go ahead and stir more curry powder in to the grains. By now, you will probably be stirring a bit more to prevent sticking. Stir, test the grains and add a little more stock until the mixture has a wonderful creamy texture.
Season it with salt and pepper and serve as soon as possible. Risotto doesn’t always hold well.