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Over the years, I've tried my share of novel tricks for outsmarting risotto—like oven-baking, and what I can only call carbonara-ifying—and always wandered back to something akin to the traditional method of ladling and stirring, ladling and stirring.
Even though the very ethos of Genius Recipes is to question the cooking rules we’ve been taught—why truss our chickens if we don’t need to? why simmer tomato sauce all day?—I’ve never fallen for any risotto technique that bucked tradition*, though I’ve certainly tried. Maybe it's because following tradition here isn’t that much of a burden (what's an active 30 minutes, anyway?)—and it’s actually pretty fun, in that witch-over-a-bubbling-cauldron sort of way.
So when former Food52 editor and Genius-sniffer-outer Sarah Jampel sent me this risotto from Judy Rodgers, the late chef and driving force behind San Francisco’s Zuni Café, I was game to give it a go like any other, but didn't expect it to change my routine. Instead of the usual sautéed mushrooms or peas, the recipe called for chunks of fresh grapefruit and lime that dissolve into colorful flecks. Huh! Well, okay! But as I kept reading, that wasn’t nearly the most shocking part.
Firstly, in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook’s section on risotto, Rodgers wrote that, for years, she had added just-simmering stock to hers, as tradition would dictate. “Then, after I casually made a fine risotto using room temperature stock, I started experimenting with cold, warm, and hot stock and found I could make a creamy risotto with any one.”
So there goes one rule. This means from now on, in perpetuity, you can grab any stock out of your fridge or pantry and get your risotto going right away, without waiting for a pot to simmer, saving yourself burner space and a pan to wash. Your dinner can be truly one-pot, without any compromise. “This convenient heresy alarms even longtime cooks at Zuni,” she continued, “but it has not failed me.”
Unlike traditional teachings, Rodgers also wasn’t concerned about how frequently you add more stock, or how much it absorbs along the way, as long as the grains don’t completely dry out. “It is only the final doses that require thoughtful judgment, to make sure you don’t add more stock than an al dente grain needs.”
Rodgers was a methodical chef and recipe developer, who famously taught us the benefits of salting our ingredients, then sticking them in the fridge to wait hours or days until they’re the best versions of themselves. She helmed one legendary restaurant for 26 years and wrote just one book, a thoughtful, 500-plus-page opus containing innumerable lessons on deeply-considered cooking. She doesn’t strike me as a sucker for time-saving hacks. I've been making risotto her streamlined way ever since and it hasn't failed me yet, either.
Perhaps I should have heard these rules debunked long ago, but why do so many recipes and technique videos continue to call for hot stock to be added bit by little bit—maybe it’s because we secretly like doing it? Or because we like to test our fellow cooks’ commitment levels? Or because enough recipe writers just haven’t questioned what they’d been taught. We can’t question everything, after all. But I’m glad that someone did.
- 1 to 2 medium grapefruit, to yield 3/4 cup sections (about 16 small sections) plus juice
- 1 lime, to yield a scant 1/4 cup sections (about 8 sections)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion (2 ounces)
- 2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- 4 to 5 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 cup mascarpone
*Except that one time, with the sunflower seeds. But that was just good fun!
Photos by Julia Gartland
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to the one and only Sarah Jampel for this one!