A fellow member reminded me how this is my undisputed signature dish, in all of its incarnations. I have no excuse not to include it in my Food52 repertoire. This is pretty much as basic as it gets for me...a weeknight risotto, if you will. I have pretty strong opinions on how I like my risotto (butter...tastes...good), but feel free to alter the preparation to suit your fancy. —PieceOfLayerCake
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the chicken stock over low heat and keep warm.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet heat 2 T. butter over medium heat, allowing it to melt and brown slightly. Add the sliced shallots, a generous pinch of salt and the chile flake, tossing the mixture in the butter with a wooden spoon or spatula. Lower the heat slightly and cook, tossing often until the shallots are sweet and soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking and stirring until its fragrant, another minute.
Add the rice all at once and toss to coat in the butter. Continue cooking until the rice is lightly toasted and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes. Pour in the lemon juice and wine (if using) and stir until completely absorbed. Begin adding the warm chicken stock, starting with 2 healthy ladles, stirring frequently until its mostly absorbed. I begin adding more stock when I can draw my spoon through the rice and it holds a line for a few seconds. Add the stock, a couple ladles at a time (I equate it to ¾ c. or so), stirring slowly, looking for a soft simmer. If you cook the risotto to quickly, it will cook unevenly, if you cook it too slowly, you'll end up with mush...an hour later. The entire process should take only 25 - 30 minutes.
Begin tasting the rice after 5 or so cups of the stock have been absorbed. It should be creamy with only a tiny amount of "bite". If you've used up all 8 cups of stock, and the rice is still not done, simply add water to finish the process. After the rice is completely cooked remove it from the heat, add the remaining butter, 1 T. lemon zest and cheese and "mantecatura". This is the process of stirring vigorously to quickly emulsify the dairy into the rice. It is an essential step in authentic risotto and is responsible for its ultra-silken texture. Check the risotto for seasoning and consistency. It should slowly spread on a plate when served, not stand in a mound. If its too stiff, add a bit more warm liquid.
Serve the risotto IMMEDIATELY with more chile flake and cheese and savor its ultimate powers of comfort.
Tip: Contrary to popular belief, risotto can indeed be cooked ahead of time....sort of. Cook the risotto until its approximately ¾ of the way done. That means it should be soft on the outside with just a tiny firm core. Spread it out onto a greased sheet pan and cool it down in the refrigerator to stop the cooking. After cooling, store the par-cooked risotto in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Right before service, simply pick up the process where you left off, allowing the rice and stock to warm before proceeding.