If I say “rice” your mind may immediately conjure up images of Chinese or other Asian cuisines. Rice is just not the first thing that pops into our Italy-means-only-pasta minds. But in the north of Italy, short grain rice is the staple and risotto — which literally means “little rice” — comes in an infinite variety of dishes. Risotto is cooked with broth, enriched with cheese of some sort, and then amplified with other ingredients: meat, fish, or vegetables. You may well have had spring risotto with asparagus tips beckoning your next bite.
It’s those different additions, in different proportions, that give you the opportunity for truly an unlimited number of risotto combinations.
Now, unlimited is the good news. Having a deadline to actually pick one recipe for an upcoming dinner party, well, that could have been a challenge. We have a shelf of Italian cookbooks, each one excellent and almost every one offering a chapter of risottos.
Given that deadline to pick one recipe, I cut the Gordian knot. Biba Caggiano is a fabulous chef, author, and TV personality based in Sacramento. Her cookbooks are staples, books that you can always depend on. So, I was scanning the recipes in Italy al Dente and found this header note: “If I have a dinner party at my house, this is the risotto I would choose.” That was just the advice I needed to end my search. Suzen read the recipe, agreed, and we were off to the store.
Was Biba right? Is this “The” risotto recipe? When I was served the dish, I took one bite, got up, and went for seconds. No one was going to beat me to having more.
This risotto, with its hint of smoky salmon and the bare sweetness of the mascarpone, is culinary paradise. It is a perfect dish. Not the just the ingredients, but the balance that is created in the flavors by the proportions Biba suggests.
This risotto is very easy to make, and I’m sure you will enjoy it. Oh, the recipe calls for vegetable broth or canned chicken broth. Suzen made one modification here: we always make stock from left over feasts, so we used turkey stock we had made ourselves at Christmas.
You can buy stock in nice metal cans, or you can make your own, using that free range turkey carcass, and fresh vegetables and just the seasonings you want. I’ll post some stock recipes in the fall when you’re more likely to be roasting whole birds. This stock is a secret to making a perfect risotto dish even more perfect. Yes, that may not be good logic or grammar, but culinarily “more perfect” is possible.
Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Mascarpone
Serves: 4 to 6
6 cups vegetable broth or 3 cups canned chicken stock mixed with 3 cups of water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup thoroughly washed leek, white part only
2 cups imported Arborio rice other rice for risotto
½ cup dry white wine [we used leftover white sparkling]
3 to 4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
2 to 3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Heat the broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the leek and cook, stirring, until the leek is pale yellow and quite soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir quickly for a minute or two until it is well coated with the butter. Add the wine and stir until the wine is almost reduced. Add ½ cup simmering broth or just enough to barely cover the rice. Cook, stirring, until the broth is absorbed almost completely. Continue cooking, adding broth and stirring the rice in this manner for another 16 to 17 minutes.
When the last addition of broth is almost all reduced, add the salmon and stir for a minute or two. Add the mascarpone and the parsley. Stir quickly until the cheese is melted and the rice is a moist, creamy consistency. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.
Source: Italy al Dente by Biba Caggiano