Risotto: Over 120 Healthy and Delicious "Little Rice" Recipes
by Jenny Stacey and Kathryn Hawkins
Published by Firefly Books
144 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
Risotto is a nearly perfect food. The creamy grains of arborio rice lend themselves to many types of treatment and presentation. To my mind, there are few things as elegant as a perfectly made risotto, perhaps just with mushrooms and a hint of truffle oil drizzled over the top. Toss some simply steamed prawns over the top or some grilled and sliced chicken and you've created a meal fit for almost any company.
Risotto can also be homey and casual, an easily reheated side dish (make lots!) or a lunch that will sustain you. I generally make twice as much as I think I'll need: inevitably at least one of my guests will like it so much they'll eat more than their "share" and forgo dessert for the pleasure of more of my risotto. I like it when that happens.
Next day, if there is some inexplicably left over, there's someone in my household who likes to reheat a bit, stuff it into a wrap with some lettuce and enjoy an instant snack. Or you can make risotto balls, each with a nice lump of mozzarella cheese popped in the center and dipped in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs and sauteed until brown. With a simple tomato and basil sauce, these are sublime.
It should be fairly obvious by now that risotto is something of a passion and a favorite for me. So it was with considerable delight that I got the chance to review Risotto: Over 120 Healthy and Delicious "Little Rice" Recipes by Jenny Stacey and Kathryn Hawkins, the first book I've seen that properly celebrates this wonderful dish. A book that has the good sense to mention, among other things, the four day festival in Veneto, Italy that centers around risotto. Mostly, however, Risotto focuses on the dish itself, in many, many variations. Risotto neophytes will want to pay special attention to the introduction, "All About Risotto." Here the authors explain exactly what type of rice to use, the importance of a good stock and what to look for in your perfect risotto pan and lots of good, basic advice as well. For instance, "Do not try to rush the cooking process by turning up the heat or adding the stock more quickly. This will simply ruin the final dish."
They might have added that this necessary slow cooking can become a healing and relaxing ritual, as it has for me. The continuous stirring and adding of stock and stirring some more growing to a peaceful rhythm that erases the stress of a busy day. This would, perhaps, have been too esoteric a thought for this book, for Risotto keeps a very clean and businesslike approach to creating this classic dish. And that's not a bad thing: excellent color photographs illustrate not only many of the dishes, but also step-by-step through the making of "The Perfect Basic Risotto." As the authors say, making risotto is not complicated but many people perceive it to be. These step-by-steps will help to relieve some people's apprehension.
The instructions for each recipe are amazingly simple as well. I've seen complicated page after page of instructions for the making of the proper risotto. However, Stacey and Hawkins have opted for a simple and sensible approach that cuts to the chase yet brings you through to the desired results.
The recipes are broken into logical sections devoted to what's in the risotto. And so, after the introduction, we have a chapter on Vegetarian Risotto, followed by Meat Risotto and then Poultry Risotto, Game Risotto, Fish Risotto, Seafood Risotto and finally an astonishing chapter on Sweet Risotto that might just as well have been called Dessert Risotto that includes a recipe for Tiramisu Risotto that is easy to make and wonderful to eat and serve.
There is little to criticize in Risotto. Strong and illustrative photos, good food styling and a very good selection of simply followed recipes. Risotto is an excellent guide to making this justly popular dish. | May 2000
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Mad Money.