The Most Wonderfully Unusual Strawberry Risotto

May 26, 2016

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.

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!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Tara R. June 10, 2016
Very interesting! I would never have thought of this, I want to try it!
Colleen June 10, 2016
20 years ago I found a recipe for strawberry risotto in an Italian cookbook and have made it many, many times over the years. My recipe doesn't include red wine; otherwise its pretty identical. It's a lovely springtime dish - I serve it with a fresh mango and baby spinach salad. People are skeptical at first, but then fall in love with it. It's wonderful.
Sophie H. May 28, 2016
I've made this...very tasty and unusual.
VeganWithaYoYo May 26, 2016
I'm thinking about making a vegan version, and I need to substitute something for the cheese. How strong is the cheese flavor in the final dish? Do you think that miso or nutritional yeast would be too noticeable in the final flavor if I used one or the other, or would adding "funky" or "cheesy" be basically what the cheese did anyway?
Author Comment
Sara J. June 5, 2016
it should be pretty light on the cheese, i would just leave it off!
VeganWithaYoYo June 10, 2016
Hi Sara! You literally replied the day I was going to make the risotto. I simply left the cheese out. The risotto came out pretty well, but I do feel there wasn't as much depth to the flavor as I'd wanted. I might try throwing in some miso next time and seeing if it changes things. Either way, even if the flavor isn't as nuanced, it's probably something I'll make again. I do love savory fruit!
VeganWithaYoYo June 10, 2016
Oh! I will say that when I poured a little more balsamic on top when I ate the leftovers, I thought it added some of what I was looking for. Maybe my strawberries were all sweet and no acid, and that was the problem?
Taste O. May 26, 2016
I had this for the first time in the '80s, but in Nairobi. The strawberries weren't cooked, and no sugar is added. I posted a recipe on my blog: