August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Master the technique and variations for creamy, comforting risotto

Using tail-on shrimp adds a restaurant flair to Parmesan Risotto with Roasted Shrimp. (Faith Durand)

Whether you’re cooking with someone special, or for a group of friends, or for your whole family, here’s a dish that lends itself to some togetherness in the kitchen: easy risotto, stirred meditatively, cooked slowly with a glass of wine in one hand and the music turned up.

Risotto has a lot going for it. There’s the slight edge of fancy, as risotto is something many of us eat at restaurants but not at home. And yet it’s so comforting — a simple home-style dish, really. It’s also not difficult. One of the nicest things about risotto is even if you turn one out that’s not quite technically perfect, in the classical sense — rice a little too soft, sauce not creamy enough, the dish a bit dry — it’s still a really good meal.

And it’s the perfect meal for when you want to spend a little time in the kitchen with your family or a friend. It’s not too demanding — it just needs some stirring and ladling. But it keeps you there sipping wine and chatting until it’s ready.

Slowly adding broth while stirring constantly is what gives risotto its signature texture. Master those steps for Basic Risotto, then customize it with add-ins to make Mushroom Risotto with Fresh Herbs or Carrot-Lemon Risotto.

Parmesan Risotto with Roasted Shrimp offers a lovely and easy way to incorporate shrimp into a dish. Just throw it into the oven as the risotto finishes cooking.

Or what about forgoing the stirring for a delicious, creamy risotto in about 12 to 15 minutes including some precious hands-off time? If that interests you, then you’ll want to try making risotto in a pressure cooker.

With just a little technique and a few kitchen basics, you too can make this classic Italian one-pot wonder.

Basic Risotto

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, diced small
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (¼ ounce)

In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a simmer; reduce heat and keep warm. In a 10-inch heavy-bottomed skillet or pot, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high. Add shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until rice is translucent at edges, about 1 minute.

Add wine and stir until evaporated, about 2 minutes. With a ladle, add about 1 cup broth to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Repeat, gradually adding broth by the cupful and stirring constantly, until rice is tender but still al dente and sauce is creamy (you may not need all of broth), about 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter and Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Great idea: You can add 6 ounces cooked, chopped bacon or ham to any risotto in step 3.

Per serving: 373 calories; 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 26 percent calories from fat); 44 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 42 mg cholesterol; 381 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Mushroom Risotto with Fresh Herbs

Follow instructions for Basic Risotto. In step 1, cook ½ pound cremini or button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered, along with shallot. In step 3, stir in 3 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as parsley, marjoram and chives, along with butter and Parmesan. Serves 4.

Per serving: 390 calories; 17 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 39 percent calories from fat); 46 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 42 mg cholesterol; 385 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Carrot-Lemon Risotto

Follow instructions for Basic Risotto. In step 2, when rice is al dente and sauce is creamy, add ½ cup carrot juice and stir until absorbed, about 4 minutes. In step 3, stir in 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice along with butter and Parmesan. Serves 4.

Per serving: 385 calories; 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 47 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 42 mg cholesterol; 397 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Parmesan Risotto with Roasted Shrimp

Recipe from Faith Durand, The recipe makes a generous quantity of risotto — about 6 large portions. For two people, you could cut the recipe in half, or just enjoy leftovers for a couple days. You can reheat risotto on the stove with a bit of extra broth to help it loosen up. Here tail-on shrimp is used for some restaurant-style flair, but you could use any large uncooked shrimp.

1 pound large shrimp
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, divided

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the shrimp and pat them very dry. Toss them with olive oil and then the paprika and a generous quantity of salt and pepper. Spread them in a baking dish and return them to the refrigerator.

Warm the broth in a saucepan set over low heat.

In a separate Dutch oven or wide, deep sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until they are soft and beginning to brown around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir thoroughly to make sure it is coated with the butter and onions. Cook the rice for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring and scraping the pan until the wine has evaporated.

Begin incrementally adding the warm broth one ladle at a time, stirring frequently. Wait to add another ladle until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice. This gradual addition of liquid is the key to getting the rice to release its starch and create its own delicious sauce, so don’t rush this step. If the broth is evaporating very quickly, or the rice is boiling hard, turn the heat down so you just see a gentle simmer and occasional plop. Expect this stage to take about 18 minutes, and to add most of the broth.

Begin tasting the rice after about 13 minutes to gauge how far it has cooked. The risotto is ready when the rice is still a bit chewy and the dish has the consistency of thick porridge.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the risotto, put the pan of prepared shrimp in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes or until the shrimp is pink.

When the risotto is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan and about ½ cup chopped parsley. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve immediately, spreading risotto in pasta bowls and topping with shrimp and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Serves 6.

Per serving: 504 calories; 15 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 27 percent calories from fat); 58 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 141 mg cholesterol; 1,524 mg sodium; 31 g protein; 2.5 g fiber.

15-Minute Risotto in a Pressure Cooker

Recipe from Dana Velden, This recipe is basically a risotto alla milanese, which is simply flavored with onions (or shallots), saffron and parmesan. This simplicity is a big part of its charm and specialness. However, if you are interested in adding vegetables to your pressure cooker risotto, it can get a little tricky (see note). That said, stirring in defrosted frozen peas at the butter stage of this recipe is a delicious variation!

4 cups of chicken stock (or more if needed)
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cups of Arborio rice
½ cup of wine
Large pinch of saffron (about 1 teaspoon)
1 or 2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup grated parmesan, divided
Fresh thyme or parsley (optional)

Be sure that all your ingredients are prepped, measured and ready to go. Place your stock in a saucepan under low flame to gently heat.

In a 6 quart or larger pressure cooker, add the olive oil and onion, along with a good pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and continue to stir another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the rice is just slightly toasted.

Add the wine to the pot (careful, it may splatter!), followed by the saffron, and stir until it has been absorbed, about 1 minute.

Add all of the stock, secure the lid on your pressure cooker, and bring up to high pressure using high heat.

Start your timer for 6 minutes. Lower the heat to maintain the pressure and cook for 6 minutes.

After 6 minutes, release the pressure using a quick method: either by running cold running water over the cooker or pressing the quick-release valve on your cooker. Carefully remove the lid to avoid the steam and return the cooker to the stove.

If needed, cook the risotto further to absorb the stock or add more stock (or water) if too dry. While the risotto is still a little wet, add the butter and half of parmesan. Stir. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Remove from heat and stir in fresh herbs, if using, reserving a few for garnish.

Serve the risotto in a low-sided platter or bowl, or spoon into individual bowls. Garnish with remaining parmesan and any fresh herbs. Makes 4 main course servings.

Note about adding vegetables: If vegetables are already cooked, then stirring them in the end during the final touches stage is easy. But if you want to cook the vegetables along with the rice and stock, then you have consider the vegetables as part of the liquid, as they are often 95 percent water. I recommend doing a simple, nonvegetable risotto like this one first so you have the basic method under your belt before adding the complexity of vegetables (or even proteins such as shrimp or chicken).

Per serving: 685 calories; 27 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 86 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 33 mg cholesterol; 708 mg sodium; 19 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Detroit News wire services contributed to this report.

Basic risotto can easily be made into delicious Mushroom Risotto with ... (Johnny Miller)