Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Learning Risotto at Lucia Ristorante

"Risotto – when made correctly – speaks of Italy."
--Lidia Bastianich

I've been pondering which risotto to make later this week, whether a traditional Risotto alla Milanese or something a bit more creative such as a Pear & Gorgonzola Risotto. Last week, I wrote about Risotto: Origins, Variations & Rice, giving some background and basics on this compelling Italian dish. In addition last week, I attended a Risotto cooking class, as a media guest, at Lucia Ristorante, learning how to prepare three different risotto dishes as well as using risotto to make Arancini. The class was informative and useful, tasty and fun, and I certainly would recommend that my readers attend future cooking classes at Lucia.

Earlier this year, Owner Donato Frattaroli (pictured on the right side) and Executive Chef Pino Maffeo (pictured on the left), began teaching monthly cooking classes at Lucia Ristorante in Winchester. Some of their prior classes covered Soups & Stocks, Artisan Pizza Making, Salads & Vinaigrettes, and Pasta. Each class runs about three hours, includes a meal, and costs $50-$60, making it an excellent value too. Their next class, which should be in September, will cover Preserving & Canning, and when I have more info, I will post about it in one of my future Sips & Nibbles columns.

"If you're cooking for a woman, make a good risotto and a salad."
--Wolfgang Puck

The Risotto class was popular, and there were ten attendees, though the class size is usually kept around five to seven. Originally, we were supposed to learn how to prepare Saffron Risotto, Wild Mushroom Risotto, and Seafood Risotto but at the class Chef Pino and Donato also decided to teach us how to prepare Arancini. Initially, we sat at tables for a brief intro about risotto, led by both Chef Pino and Donato, and soon enough we moved to a kitchen for a more hands-on lesson about preparing risotto.

I've attended other chef cooking classes at local restaurants and they often can be far more demonstrations, rather than having the attendees do much of the cooking. This class though immersed the attendees in both preparation as well as cooking, from dicing up onions and cleaning squid to sauteing mushrooms and cooking the rice. Demonstrations have value, but actual experience at cooking recipes is invaluable, elevating this cooking class above many others.

Chef Pino began by trying to assure us that making risotto is "pretty easy" as well as telling us that "there are no rules." There is no singular method to prepare risotto, and you will find plenty of chefs giving different advice. For example, though many claim that stirring risotto constantly is absolutely necessary, there are others, including Chef Pino, who disagree. It was also interesting to see when Chef Pino and Donato disagreed about certain aspects of risotto preparation, further proof that risotto is not a singular dish. For example, Chef Pino has no issue with using butter to finish a risotto but Donato would never do so, using only olive oil.

Risotto is also a versatile dish, and you can prepare it with a huge variety of different ingredients, dependent on your preferences. Even in Italy, you will find many different versions of risotto, with everything from asparagus to frogs. You can use any type of wine, from whites to reds, or even sake or beer. We used Arborio rice for our risottos, primarily because it is the easiest risotto rice for home cooks to find at nearly any market. Chef Pino mentioned to me though that he actually has had good results from using sushi rice!

"There are no two ways of making risotto; either you make it right, or it is not risotto."
--Lidia Bastianich

Trhoughout the class, Chef Pino and Donato showed us how to prepare and cook certain aspects of risotto and then they had us replicate those methods. Though they prepared much of the saffron risotto, they still had some of the attendees contribute to its cooking, such as stirring the rice after stock was added. Then, the attendees did most of the work in preparing the other two risottos. For example, I cooked much of the seafood risotto, from sauteing the onions, to constantly stirring the rice, letting the rice absorb the stock. Standing at a hot stove, stirring and stirring, while the rice plumped from the seafood stock, waiting until it reached the right consistency, with an al dente core.

Risotto actually doesn't take much skill, more just patience and observation. Work with quality ingredients and that will enhance your final product. Overall, it will take around 25 minutes to cook your risotto, and it will be well worth your time. You can make it as an entree or a side dish, and it can be created to accompany near any main dish. If anything, this class helped people to learn not to fear risotto preparation, which can seem intimidating. I know plenty of people who think it is too difficult at home, yet that is not truly the case.

"Kids today want to eat their risotto with curry and shrimp and sour cream, not risotto alla Milanese, like they should, in my opinion."
--Mario Batali

Above, are two photos of Saffron Risotto, also known as Risotto Alla Milanese. The first photo shows it while it is in the preparatory stages, while the second shows the final product: yellow, creamy and delicious. That is one of the simplest risottos to prepare, but it doesn't lack in flavor. Traditionally, it is served with Osso Buco, braised veal shank. Making this risotto would be a good place to start for a home cook, to better comprehend the steps of making risotto.

For the Mushroom Risotto, we used a combination of Chanterelles, Portabella, Oyster and Shitake mushrooms, though you can use any type of mushrooms that you like. Chef Pino also recommended using mushroom salt in the preparation, as well as a bit of truffle oil, to enhance the savory flavor of this dish. This dish is a huge burst of umami flavor and would pair well with an umami-rich Sake, such as a Kimoto or Yamahai-style.

For the Seafood Risotto, Chef Pino had recently caught a number of squid in the Boston Harbor, and you can't get much fresher than that. So, the attendees had to clean those squids before they were ready to be used in the risotto. It was a funny coincidence that on the same evening of the class, some of the contestants on Masterchef also had to clean fresh squid.

The Seafood Risotto was made with clams, shrimp, mussels, calamari, and some red sauce, and I largely cooked the rice. This was probably the most complicated of the three dishes, because of the added prep, such as cleaning the squid, as well as the need to cook all of the seafood. Each component is not difficult, but you need to be well organized to be able to have everything ready at the proper time. This is the type of risotto that works well as a main dish.

As a special addition, we also learned how to prepare Arancini, rice balls. Each of us got to make an arancini, though Chef Pino cooked the prepared arancini for us. We began by preparing a half-sphere of saffron risotto and filled it with some Bolognese sauce and shredded cheese. Then we covered it with more risotto, shaping the result into a sphere. Afterward, it was rolled into a slurry mixture and then covered by panko. The first picture above shows the arancini before they were cooked. Again, this is a recipe that might seem difficult but it really wasn't.

After all of the preparation and cooking, we sat down at a large table together to enjoy the fruits of our labor. With glasses of wine, I ate some of all three risottos and one of the arancini, and everything was delicious. Each risotto was creamy and rich, yet possessed of its own unique flavors. If I had to choose one as my favorite, I probably would have to go with the mushroom risotto because of its explosion of umami.

I feel more confident about cooking risotto and will prepare it at home. It will probably take more trial and error at home, but I have taken some major steps in the right direction. This was a worthy cooking class and Chef Pino and Donato were fine instructors, making you feel comfortable in the kitchen and making it all fun as well as educational. I will likely take additional cooking classes at Lucia and strongly recommend that my readers do so as well.

Maybe I will try to make the Risotto with Four Cheeses, which contains Gruyère, Taleggio, Gorgonzola and Parmesan.

1 comment:

Jane Ward said...

This sounds like a great class. Lucia has been doing some great things with Pino Maffeo at the helm. I hope you enjoy your risotto making at home!