Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sweet Italian Sausage Risotto with Asparagus


Everyone (including me at first), seems to be pretty afraid of risotto. The truth is that it's really not that big of a deal and doesn't take a long time to prepare. Just get into the zone and stir for a little while. No biggie.

I think the biggest problem is that there are so many opinions on how to prepare it. What is "right" and what "never to do". I first started reading all of the information out there and tried to assemble a happy medium on the "dos" and "don'ts" for risotto cooking. Below is what I've found to be the best "basic outline" of any risotto.

I'll assume you use this rice:

Other rice may act different, so look on the box for any idiosyncrasies. 

You need to follow the steps pretty closely. It's not that complex, but you need to finish each step before going on to the next.

1. Saute the Aromatics
Soffritto is when you sauté onions or shallots in butter or olive oil. A lot of people insist on one or the other, but I've found that you can combine butter and olive oil and get best of both worlds. This is also where you add any of your meats that can stand the long cooking process. Depending what it is, it may be added before or after the aromatics and you can use their fat as well.

2. Toast the Rice
You want add your rice to the soffritto and "toast" each grain before adding any liquid. There is a pretty big debate as to why this is important, but I gather it's for even cooking of each grain and overall consistency of the final risotto. Finish this step with 1/2 cup of good white wine. Let it absorb before adding any stock.

3. Add Stock
First, use stock, not water, and ensure that the stock is in a pot right next to your risotto and is at a near boil. The temperature is important so that the the rice doesn't get crunchy on the outside of the grain. Add one ladle at a time and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. You know it's ready for the next ladle when the starch in the rice will leave little clear trails when you stir. (This is the longest step, approx 30 minutes)

4. Almost done
When the risotto is "almost" finished (when you are running out of stock) you need to start tasting the rice often. The crunch is what will tell you when it is almost done. The goal here is to have all the stock absorbed and have the rice to where you want it. You may add half a ladle at a time to really dial it in. You can also add any final fast cooking ingredients at this stage. This can be almost anything like veggies, mushrooms or quick seafood.

5. Rest and Finish
After your consistency is good, let it rest for 2-3 minutes off the heat. This will let everything firm up. Finish with a pat of butter or cheese or both, depending on what you are making (rule of thumb is no cheese with seafood and sometimes (as with this recipe) I don't like parmesan with it. Only butter)

Keeping all this in mind, I give you:

Sweet Italian Sausage Risotto with Asparagus

1 large Shallot, finely diced
1 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Butter (plus 1/2 a Tbs to finish with)
3 links of Sweet Italian Sausage, casing removed. (I use the Jenny-O turkey sausage but you can use any italian sausage, I just like the "sweet" variety)
1 Cup of Arborio Rice
1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks, butts saved.
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups stock, at a strong simmer (chicken or vegetable but homemade is better!) Also note that you may not use all of this, or may need more, in a pinch, just use some water for the very end.
Salt and Pepper to taste

Also, you can adjust the ratio of asparagus to sausage to rice as you see fit. Some people like way more rice to other ingredients, so experiment. Obviously, I think this is a good ratio.



We are going to begin with the stock.

Get the stock into a medium sauce pan or whatever you have and add the butts from the asparagus that you saved when you prepped.

This will give some color and asparagus essence to the stock so you'll get that asparagus flavor all the way into the rice. Very nice.

Let the butts cook for about 10-15 minutes until they are pretty well spent. Unless you want to eat them, just toss them out.

Let this stay at a simmer while the risotto is started.


Add the the sausage to a sauté pan at medium-high heat.

Cook until no longer pink and add the butter and olive oil, then the shallots.

Cook until soft, but not browned.

Add the cup of rice to the pan. 

Make sure to str constantly and cover each grain of rice. Some people say this step is done when the rice makes a "clicking" sound against the pan. Like little beads of glass. Another indicator is that you will see the outer shell of the rice grains start to turn translucent while the core stays white. I look for both.

Add the wine and wait for it to be absorbed into the rice. 

This will fortify the core with flava.

Begin adding the stock one ladle at a time.

Yes, you have to stir constantly, but it's not super important until the liquid is close to being absorbed. If you are alone and need to grab something, just add a little more stock at the beginning of each cycle and that'll buy some time.

Regardless, you need to ensure that the liquid is fully absorbed before you add more. Be patient and look for the tell-tale signs that you can add more liquid. Basically, you want to swipe through the rice and have it hold shape and not have any liquid seep through the swipe. 

This is too early: 

You'll also start to see the grains of rice give little trails of "slime" as you stir it. I usually use this as my "go" signal for the next ladle of stock.

It's Go Time:

When you are about 3/4 of the way through the stock (or towards the final product), go ahead and throw in the trimmed asparagus. There should be plenty of time left for it to get cooked. 

(This happened for me after 5 ladles.)

Keep adding stock and letting it get absorbed until the rice is soft on the outside but still slightly crunchy on the inside. If you like it more soft, keep cooking until it's soft all the way through. It's up to you. Remember that you can add only a bit at a time to dial in the doneness.

Once it's basically done, remove it from the heat and let it sit, undisturbed for 2-3 minutes. 

(I ended up using 6 total ladles for mine and had 1/4 cup of stock leftover. Whew!)

Then add a pat of butter and stir until it's got a healthy sheen and stands up on its own. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

There. That's wasn't so bad, right? And the awesome thing is, the more you make it, the better it will be. And you really can't mess it up, so go for it.

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