A Month of Side Dishes: Lemon Risotto

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Month of Side DishesDecember is BlogHer's Month of Side Dishes, and we want you to share your favorite side! Click here to see how to play along. And check out all the sides we're craving in the Month of Side Dishes series.

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During graduate school, my friend and I were spending a month in Italy. My friend, Frank, offered to drive down to Milan from Freiberg, Germany with his friend Jens, and take us from Milan to Venice for New Years. Sounded fantastic, and he booked the whole trip for us, choosing a great hotel with a lot of personality within a few blocks of Piazza San Marco.

My one food goal for the city was risotto al limone -- lemon risotto. I knew it would be served in a lot of restaurants so I didn't think it would be difficult to score a bowl. Except Frank forgot one thing when he was making the reservations: securing a place for New Year's Eve dinner.

In my journal, at 5:28 pm, I noted that I was hungry because we hadn't eaten yet that day. Why hadn't we eaten? Because we were young and stupid. So around 5:30 pm, we started trying to find a place that would serve us, and wouldn't you know, every restaurant we approached was booked for New Years Eve. The one place that could take us was too expensive for our budget and had a fixed menu for the holiday. For two hours, we walked through the city, all of us becoming progressively cranky.

And though Frank and Jens were pissed off to admit defeat, we all ended up in a self-service eatery where I got a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce. No problem -- we'd just go out the next night.

Except the next night, the same thing happened, and while we were able to finally find a restaurant that would serve us, we managed to also find the one place in the city that didn't have lemon risotto on their menu. The next day, we traveled south and I didn't get my risotto in Italy (sniff). All the more reason to return in the future.

Most risotto recipes I've seen are set up to scare you. They make it sound as if you cannot leave the stove, and if you walk away for a second or even pause to scratch your nose, your rice will be scorched. And I say, "feh" to that. I can make a great lemon risotto all the while writing a blog post at the same time. And I proved it by making some while I wrote this blog post and photographed it for posterity.

And now, I'm going to share it with you.

Unlike regular rice, where I use a 2:1 ratio, risotto demands more of a 3:1 ratio to bring out that creaminess. I also use my own vegetable stock. There's simply no point in using the canned or carton varieties because the stock becomes such a huge part of the taste of the dish. Take your time to make a simple vegetable stock beforehand -- and make a lot of it because it freezes well and you can use it for future risotto dishes. Lastly, risotto uses a special, short-grained rice called Arborio rice. I've never tried making this with anything else, and frankly, I don't think it would work well at all.

Ingredients:
3 cups of homemade vegetable stock
1 cup of Arborio rice
1/8 cup of vermouth
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 of a lemon peel, grated with a microplane (as in, take the whole lemon and shred half of the peel off)
1 tbsp juice from the lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat up the vegetable stock in a separate pot. Once it reaches the boiling point, turn down the heat and cover it to keep it warm.

In a second pot, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium (to medium low) heat and saute the chopped shallot until they begin to brown. Add the rice and toast it for a moment in the fat and shallots. Add the vermouth and allow it to burn off for a minute while you're stirring. Add a cup or so of the broth and stir it in. Now set one timer for 30 minutes and another timer for 3 minutes. The first timer is telling you the total cooking time (estimated). The second timer is your 3 minute reminder to come back and stir. Now go and start your blog post.

When the timer goes off, stir the rice, and if you see it becoming dry, add another half cup of broth. The rice should be simmering -- not boiling. Set the timer again for another 3 minutes (and go write).

Keep coming back and adding broth, stirring well each time, and resetting the timer for 2 or 3 minutes. Do this until all of the broth has been added and most of the liquid is absorbed (about 30 minutes total). Stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Now serve yourself immediately get back to that blog post.

See, easy peasy lemon risotto squeezy. And look at all of that creamy goodness in the rice.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

We want you to share your favorite side! Click here to see how to play along. And check out all the sides we're craving in the Month of Side Dishes series.

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