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Cape Flavors

Eataly trip reveals art of risotto recipes

By Denise Clemons | Jun 23, 2014
Photo by: Jack Clemons Roasted asparagus risotto.

Earlier this month we attended a cooking class at Eataly in New York City. For those of you unfamiliar with the place, Eataly is a 50,000-square-foot food hall operating under the guidance of Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe Bastianich. The bustling destination is a combination of restaurants, retail shops, tasting rooms, produce stalls and specialty vendors including fishmongers, butchers, pasta makers and bakers.

Our two-hour class was titled the Art of Spring Risotto, and Chef Alicia Walter shared all her secrets. When we arrived, the classroom was arranged in rows of double desks facing an expanse of stainless steel counters surrounding a gas cooktop. Each place was set with cutlery, napkins, wineglasses, a basket of artisanal bread slices and the handouts for the class.

After introductions from the cooking team and support staff, a young sommelier filled our wineglasses with the first taste of the evening: Baglio di Pianetto Ficiligno Bianco. This unique blend of Insolia and Viognier grapes grown in a mountainous zone in Palermo balances floral notes with tropical fruit in a delightful harmony.

She had us taste the wine with a bite of bread and then again after a mouthful of pea risotto. The contrast was quite a surprise. The bread brought out the lightness of the wine, while the sturdy risotto highlighted the structure and finesse of the vintage.

As for the risotto, the first thing we learned was that 16 minutes is the average time from the first ladle of broth until the final spoonful finishes the dish. We learned a few more tips: the correct pan to use is not a saucepan but one known as a rondeau, a six-inch-deep, 18-inch round pan. Its design allows more surface area for contact with the heat and greater evaporation from the wide opening.

There are a few basic steps to risotto (more if you need to precook your stir-ins and if you count preheating your broth). Assuming you’ve already brought your broth to a simmer on a nearby burner, you’re ready to begin. Step 1: Melt your fat in the rondeau over medium heat. Depending upon the flavor profile, the fat can be bacon or pancetta drippings, olive oil, butter or a blend.

Step 2: Sweat your aromatics. Gently cook minced alliums until translucent and softened, but not browned. Again, there are several choices here - shallots, scallions, white or yellow onion, garlic or leeks - depending on how sharp or soft a flavoring is desired.

Step 3: Toast your rice. Stir the rice into the butter with a silicon spatula and cook it for a few minutes until it’s completely covered with butter, fragrant and makes a slight popping sound. If you’ve reached the correct state, you’ll be able to see the white center of the grains surrounded by an opaque oval.

Step 4: Seasoning. Liberally sprinkle the rice with salt and stir in wine, cooking until the alcohol is evaporated. Step 5: Broth. Now you’re ready to add the simmering broth, one ladle at a time. After each addition, stir the rice vigorously, collecting any errant grains that have climbed up the sides of the pan. Through a combination of heat and friction, the rice will begin to release its starch and the broth will become almost cloudy.

Make sure the rice never dries out, but is constantly bathed in broth. If you’re adding steamed shrimp or roasted asparagus slices, stir them in a few minutes before the rice is tender. Test the grains when you reach the 15-minute mark; you want them to keep just a bit of strength in their texture, the perfect degree of al dente. Once the rice is ready, stir in a knob of butter, herbs and cheese.

Because of its starchy, moist consistency, risotto should be served immediately. Correctly cooked risotto will not be stiff, but still a tad wet, with a bit of visible broth pooling around the rice. And, as for the type of rice, choose a variety designated “superfino.” The risotto in the photo was made with Carnaroli rice from San Massimo, sourced, of course, from Eataly. If you’re unable to find this type, you may substitute the more readily available arborio rice.

I’ve included recipes for the dishes we sampled at the class and heartily recommend the second wine we tasted, Tenuta Guado al Tasso Scalabrone Bolgheri Rosato. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah pours a brilliant pink in the glass and delivers a fresh, fruity flavor that paired perfectly with the saffron risotto. Buon Appetito.

Pea Risotto*

6 C vegetable broth
1/2 C unsalted butter
2 finely sliced ramps
1 chopped leek
2 C Vialone Nano rice
1 C white wine
1 1/2 t salt
1 1/2 C shelled peas
6 T torn herbs (mint, parsley, tarragon)
1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt & pepper, to taste


Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan. Add the peas and cook just until they turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove peas to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Pour peas into a colander to drain; set aside. Reduce broth to a gentle simmer and keep on the heat. Melt 1/4 C butter in a rondeau over medium. Add ramps and leeks; cook until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the butter; cook until fragrant. Add the wine and salt; cook until the liquid evaporates. Reduce heat to low and begin adding the warm broth, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Continue adding broth, making sure the rice does not become dry. After about 12 minutes, stir the reserved peas into the rice. Continue cooking until the rice is tender and creamy but still firm. Add herbs, remaining butter and cheese; adjust seasonings and serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings. *Adapted from Eataly

Saffron Risotto*

1 zucchini, cubed
1-2 t olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
pinch saffron threads
6 C chicken broth
3 T olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 2/3 C Carnaroli rice
1/2 C white wine
4 T cubed butter
1/4 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt & pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Combine zucchini, olive oil, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss gently until the zucchini is completely coated. Spread zucchini on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes; set aside. Place saffron threads in a medium saucepan; toast over medium-low until fragrant. Pour broth into the saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce to a very slow simmer and keep on the heat. Heat olive oil in a rondeau over low heat and sauté onion until softened but not browned. Add rice, increase heat to medium-high and cook the rice until fragrant, stirring constantly. Pour in wine and stir until evaporated. Begin adding the saffron broth, one-half cup at a time, stirring constantly. Taste the rice after about 12 minutes and cook only until al dente. Remove pan from the heat and stir in butter and cheese. Adjust seasonings and top with roasted zucchini. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings. *Adapted from Eataly

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