Although I never see strawberry risotto on Roman menus anymore, it was all the rage in the 80s. Its fifteen minutes of fame has long since expired, but I still love it.
It sounds unusual and it is, but the flavor is magnificent: deep and complex and not sweet at all, with a fine balance between acidity and richness. Every spring and early summer when strawberries are in season, I put it on my menu at Porsena—but it’s a tough sell, so sometimes I just cook it for myself.
You need really flavorful strawberries for this, and it’s a great thing to do with strawberries that are a little past their peak, as they dissolve into the rice.
Risotto seems to be a very challenging dish for many, but I think once you understand the technique, it's actually quite easy and adaptable to many ingredients. The key elements to success are a well-seasoned stock, making sure to “toast” the rice in the fat with the onions, and constant stirring for the twenty minutes it takes to cook the rice. You are trying to draw the starch out of the rice and have it bond with the broth to achieve a starch-thickened sauce that the rice sort of floats in.
Start with good stock: I always prefer to use good homemade chicken or light meat stock for risotto, as it adds to the depth of flavor, but in the restaurant we always make our risotto with vegetable stock so that vegetarians can order it (and it’s almost as delicious and satisfying).
You need to stir the rice in the broth continuously—it's the only way to bond the starch with the broth so that you get the creamy, starchy amalgamation a true risotto demands. You don’t have to stand there moving your arm in a circular motion for twenty minutes, but you should stand over the pot and give it a stir every thirty seconds or so.
Different risotto-eating regions of Italy have different consistencies they look for in risotto, from wetter to drier, and I like my rice to be not too dry but more soft and creamy, the consistency of a really creamy rice pudding. But if you like it drier, add a little less broth, and if you like it wetter, add a little more.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- Sea salt
- 2 cups carnaroli rice (you can also Arborio)
- 2 cups hulled and halved strawberries
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups chicken, light meat, or vegetable stock, heated to a simmer
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana cheese
- Optional garnishes: 2 tablespoons genuine aged balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped chives, freshly cracked black pepper
A rash of risottos, for springtime:
Strawberry risotto: yay or nay? Tell us in the comments—and share another unusual risotto type while you're at it!