Serves 8 as a first course, 4 as a main course
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, finely diced
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups short-grain risotto rice (like Arborio)
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 to 4 cups water
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine the stock and 3 cups of the water in a saucepan, heat to the boil and then cover the pot and turn off the heat. In a large pot, preferably non-stick, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a teaspoon of salt and cook until the onion is softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the rice so it’s well coated, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, stirring constantly. The rice won’t brown, but it will absorb some of the butter and oil, and you’ll start to hear a kind of clicking noise as you stir the rice around. Add the wine and keep stirring until the wine is all absorbed and evaporated to the point that you leave a path in the rice when you drag your spoon through it.
Pour in half of the warm stock and water mixture (then cover the pot with the rest in it). Stir up the rice and liquid, then clean off the sides of the pot above the liquid line. Adjust the heat to a very light boil and leave it for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the stock and water, plus some pepper and any of the add-ins listed below. Let it boil lightly for 3 minutes, then lower the heat to a bare simmer and start stirring, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is nearly all absorbed. If it’s getting too dry, heat up the last cup of water and stir in as much as you need. Turn off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of butter plus the cheese. Taste for salt and serve immediately.
Butternut squash: In a large bowl combine 1 pound of peeled butternut squash cut into 1/2-inch dice with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of ground fennel seed, a pinch of cinnamon, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes, stirring halfway through. Or brown them in a preheated large non-stick skillet (let the cubes sit undisturbed for the first 5 minutes, then turn them with a spatula and continue to cook for another 5 to 8 minutes). Remove from the skillet or baking sheet onto a plate until needed.
Sauteed mushrooms: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet on high heat. Add 1/2 pound of cleaned, sliced mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let the mushrooms sit undisturbed for 30 seconds, then turn them over and sear the other side. Remove from the skillet onto a plate until needed.
Peas: Rinse 1 cup frozen peas in warm water to thaw them.