Risotto for One
After college, I backpacked across Europe for a few months. I traveled from country to country, staying for the most part in youth hostels. My mother was very impressed with my adventurous spirit. “She’s going to all of these different places and staying in those brothels,” she would tell people, until one of my sisters reluctantly corrected her.
Since I was but a poor tourist who was indeed not working her way across the continent, I traveled very frugally and seldom experienced anything even remotely like fine dining. About the closest I came was I dined at Il Vero Alfredo, the “Emperor of Fettuccini,” on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in Rome.
Because I was such a finicky eater as a kid I never was much for fancy food or restaurants. But when my friend and I strolled past Alfredo’s one late afternoon, we took a look at the menu. We had of course heard of Fettuccini Alfredo, and the place wasn’t too expensive, so we decided to give it a try.
We sat down before the dinner rush and had the place to ourselves. We ordered two plates of their famous Fettuccini, but the waiter had taken a liking to us and didn’t want us to order the same thing. He chose a second meal, and soon reappeared with a steaming plate of Fettuccini Alfredo for my friend and some kind of rice dish for me.
I had never had rice like this. I was bowled over by how good it was. I don’t remember if it had anything mixed in, like guanciale or peas; I just remember this lovely, cheesy rice, and for years I recalled it with gusto. I thought of it as Rice Alfredo. I assumed it was a house specialty that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
It wasn’t until I expanded my food horizons many years later and had my first risotto that I realized what Rice Alfredo was — and that it’s on the menu of most Italian restaurants in America.
After my risotto epiphany I ordered it regularly when I dined out, but never tried to make it myself. There’s this big mystique around risotto, isn’t there? It has a reputation as being hard to make.
But it’s not. I broke through my risotto-making block years ago, and have been making it at home ever since. About the only trick is to keep adding broth as you cook and stir it frequently, and contrary to rumor you don’t have to stir constantly.
But the thing is, risotto is a bit rich, and sometimes one serving is enough for me. I’ve read that risotto doesn’t freeze well (though I should probably test this theory), and since most recipes serve at least four and don’t scale down for one very easily, my only option if I want to make risotto for myself is to toss the leftovers or keep reheating them for days.
Enter Toni Lydecker and her take on a Risotto for One recipe. I came across Toni’s Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms and Peas Recipe in her cookbook “ Serves One “ (the name says it all) published by Lake Isle Press, and gave it a try.
I won’t eat mushrooms (no allergy, just don’t like them), so I subbed in zucchini. I sautéed it for a few minutes, then added the cooked zucchini at the same time as the peas. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.
Bingo. Delicious risotto, and plenty for a single serving (it could serve as an appetizer for two) with no leftovers. As the recipe says, there was about 15 minutes of prep, and 20 minutes of cooking time. 35 minutes and you have a meal fit for an Emperor. While I usually like to maximize my cooking time by making more than one meal at a time, sometimes an easy recipe for one is all I want.
RISOTTO WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND PEAS RECIPE
Prep: 15 Minutes | Cook: 20 Minutes
1 + 1/2 cups store-bought or homemade chicken or vegetable broth (see Note)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or onion
3/4 cup thinly sliced shiitake caps, cremini, or white mushrooms, or a mixture
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme or leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup Arborio, Carnaroli, or other medium-grain rice
2 tablespoons dry white vermouth
1/4 cup frozen or fresh peas
1–2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Bring the broth to a simmer in a small saucepan over low heat.
- Heat the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the butter in a small sauté pan or saucepan (about 6 inches in diameter) over medium heat. Sauté the shallot until tender but not browned. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they soften. Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter and stir in the rice. Cook and stir for a minute or 2 until the grains are well coated. Add the vermouth, and when most of the liquid has evaporated, ladle in enough warm broth to barely cover the rice. Adjust the heat so the liquid simmers briskly (see Note). Once that is absorbed replenish with the same amount of broth. Continue to stir often, adding broth as needed, until the rice is cooked but still slightly firm in the center
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peas along with a little more broth for the risotto to “drink” while resting for about 5 minutes (don’t worry if some broth is left over). Sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
RECIPE FROM “SERVES ONE” BY TONI LYDECKER,
LAKE ISLE PRESS, 2005
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on April 8, 2021.