A Different Shade of Risotto

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: August 31, 2013 10:20 IST

A Different Shade of Risotto
As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it's growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world's second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: Corn is numero uno.)

This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time - 20 minutes or so - that it does with white rice.

As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.

All I can tell you is that this risotto seemed like the perfect confluence of ingredients when I made it last week. I had Koda Farms brown rice, a medium-grain variety that is probably the best produced in the United States. I had a few leftover shrimp and stock I'd made from their shells.

To top it off, I had incredibly fine delicata squash, from Vermont. ("Imported" by me.) That squash, whose skin is not only edible but craveable, has increased my love of winter squash and made it clear to me that any thin-skinned variety - those cute little sugar pumpkins, fresh acorn squash, even some butternuts - can star in a dish like this.This was a hurry-up dish of 45 minutes, start to finish - good news for people who think brown rice takes forever. That's only about 20 minutes longer than white-rice risotto, and that 20 minutes is exactly the amount of time it takes to parboil the brown rice. While that's happening, you can sear some meat or shell some shrimp and make stock with it or, if you're lucky, just assemble ingredients.

As with any risotto, the basic method remains the same. You can use almost any kind of winter squash; the cooking time of about 20 minutes will pretty reliably take three-quarter-inch cubes from raw to tender but not mushy. (You can extend the cooking time a bit if you need to.) Any kind of stock will work, even a quickly made one of carrots, celery and onion, with a meaty bone or two if you have one. And the meat or fish is totally optional; the chew and flavor are of course welcome, but this could be a fine vegan risotto.

And as with any risotto, the leftovers have insane potential. Since a cup of brown rice produces about four cups of cooked rice, with all these substantial add-ins this recipe really serves four people, even as a main course. The night I made it, there were two of us. The next night, I crisped maybe two ounces of chopped bacon in a little more olive oil, then scooped that out and sauteed a little more onion and a cup of peas (actually, frozen), cranked the heat and browned the leftover rice in there: instant fried rice, and never better.

Which brings me to the Parmesan. I consider it optional largely because I've come to prefer leaner, simpler risottos. Traditionally, butter was the fat of choice, and Parmesan used whenever it was available and appropriate - that is, a good pairing. In restaurants at least, a big hunk of butter is often stirred in at the end of cooking to enrich the dish and take it over the top. (If you've ever wondered why your risotto is not as velvety and filling as that in restaurants, it's because you have more of a conscience than most chefs.)

But I start with good olive oil and often omit the Parmesan, finishing the dish instead with a lot of chopped herbs. The results not only showcase the rice and add-ins, but they are also cleaner. If you want an even sharper flavor, you could add a bit of lemon juice at the last second.

Of course the real distinction here is the brown rice. And fresher, believe it or not, is better, not only for quicker cooking but for superior flavor. "New crop" brown rice is far from ubiquitous, but it exists, and this is the time of year to find it. If you do, use it.


Time: About 45 minutes


1 cup short- or medium-grain brown rice

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 medium onion or large shallot, chopped

Black pepper

About 2 cups winter squash in roughly 3/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

4 cups any stock (shrimp, chicken, lobster, vegetable, pork) or water

1 cup bite-size pieces of meat or shellfish (precooked is OK): sausage, pork, lobster, shrimp, chicken, etc.

1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley

1. Bring medium pot of water to a boil and salt it. Stir in brown rice, adjust heat so that water bubbles steadily, and cook without stirring until rice is swollen and half-tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. (If you want to wait a bit before proceeding, spread the rice on a platter or sheet tray so it cools.)

2. Put oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add onion or shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with oil, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then stir in the squash; add the wine. Stir and let liquid bubble away.

3. Begin to add the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

4. When rice is just about tender and mixture is creamy, stir in shellfish or meat and continue
to cook, adding more liquid if necessary, until rice is tender. The final dish should be quite moist but not soupy. Add Parmesan if you're using it, then taste and add more salt or pepper (or both) if necessary. Garnish with basil or parsley and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

© 2012 New York Times News Service


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