Friday, April 15, 2011

Strawberry Risotto !

The first time I discovered Strawberry Risotto on a menu was about 20 years ago in a restaurant in Verona. Strawberry Risotto? It sounded really odd but I am adventurous with food. I like to taste (almost) everything at least once. When the waiter proposed it, he didn’t have to work a lot at convincing me.

I remember it took a while to get my risotto to the table. If you order risotto in Northern Italy do not expect it to be served in 5 minutes. They take risotto seriously there and it takes whatever time it takes: Just be patient or order something else. While you wait for the risotto to be served, you can enjoy some light appetizer and drink some sparkling Prosecco wine. And by the way, there is no such a thing as dipping oil in the restaurants in Italy. After several minutes we were served a large dish of red risotto. It was just wonderful! If you never tasted Strawberry Risotto you will be amazed. At the end of the dinner I asked for the recipe to a very courteous chef, and of course he (courteously) refused.

I had to come up with my own recipe, and that was not a difficult problem to solve. Risotto making is pretty standard. The only change I made from traditional risotto, in this time of lean cuisine, I used extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter. Please feel free to substitute olive oil for butter and add more parmigiano cheese to my recipe if you like. But please don’t use cream! The creaminess of the risotto comes from the starch of the Italian rice. I used Arborio rice, the simplest rice to cook and maintain ‘al dente’. You can use Carnaroli rice for more body, or Vialone rice for a more ‘all’onda’ creamy consistency.

In my recipe I like to add the strawberries in two batches, the fist at the beginning, finely chopped, will dissolve while cooking the risotto. The second batch in larger chunks, added almost at the end, will give consistency and sweetness. Remember that, contrary to common belief, risotto doesn’t have to be stirred continuously for 20 minutes. If the risotto is stirred too much the rice skin will be broken and the risotto will result very starchy. I like to add half of the broth at the beginning and stir occasionally. Then, when the liquid is absorbed, add the rest a ladle at the time to control the consistency of the risotto.

I have been making strawberry risotto for many years and every time I am asked the same question: “You are making a sweet risotto?”. Strawberry risotto is not sweet! Depending on the ripeness of the fruit, it will have a wonderful fruity-sour-sweet tang. Prepare Strawberry risotto in spring and summer when the strawberries are at their best, dig in, and enjoy.

Strawberry Risotto
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4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
1-1/2 cups (300 gr) Arborio rice
1/4 cup (60 cc) cognac
1-1/2 lb (600 gr) strawberries (half finely chopped, half halved, reserve a few strawberries for decoration)
5 cups (approx 1 liter) chicken broth, warm to a simmer in a small saucepan
salt and pepper
4 oz (120 gr) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Place the olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add rice.

Stir until the rice is fully coated for about 2 minutes. Add the cognac. Let the cognac evaporate.

Stir in the chopped strawberries.

Add about half of the broth. Keep the rice to a simmer and stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan.

When the broth is absorbed ...

 ... stir in the halved strawberries.

 Add a ladle of broth and stir slowly keeping the rice at a “pasty” consistency.  Add the broth a little at the time to control the consistency of the risotto.

 Taste the risotto. When the risotto is al dente, in about 22 to 25 minutes, cooked but still firm to the bite, add the parmigiano cheese and stir vigorously for a minute.


Let the risotto rest for about 2 minutes before transferring to a serving dish. Decorate with the reserved strawberries and serve hot.