The history of risotto began in Middle Ages when travelers first introduced rice to Spain and Italy. The Spaniards developed paella, but the Italians added cheese, broth, and saffron and slow cooked it for creamy goodness. Initially, only the aristocracy could afford to eat risotto, but once the rice production ramped up, it became a dish for everyone to enjoy.
I first sampled this lemon risotto dish in New York City at Blue Water Grill years ago. The flavor bowled me over, and I had to recreate it! Even though I don’t eat cheese, the parmesan is added right at the end, so I just scoop out a serving for myself and then add the cheese for everyone else.
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup rice (we used arborio, a common risotto choice)
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup grated cheese
- 1 lemon
- Heat a large pan on medium heat on the stove, add the butter to melt
- Add the onion, stir until translucent
- Zest the lemon and add the zest to the onion/butter mixture
- Add the rice, coat thoroughly with the mixture
- Quickly add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and a squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon) and stir until the rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat until the rice absorbed all the broth, and then switch to water, adding it 1/2 cup at a time and adding lemon juice each time. Stir the entire time to prevent the rice from sticking and burning. This process takes 45 to 60 minutes.
- As the last of the water is being absorbed by the rice, add the parmesan cheese and gently stir until thoroughly mixed. Serves 8 to 12.
Cooking tips. This process is slow cooking at it’s best, gently pushing moisture and flavor into the rice until you reach creamy goodness. It’s imperative you keep a close eye on it and continue to stir the rice gently. In fact, they even make risotto spoons specifically to minimize damage to the rice.
If you are creating the risotto as part of a dinner party, I recommend you keep everything else simple so you can tend the rice. Make sides ahead of time and keep the protein simple, my suggestions are broiled white fish, shrimp or salmon, but chicken would work well too as a twist on chicken piccata.