There is nothing to compare, really, with a well-prepared risotto, but the technique is generally not well-understood. Combine this with the fact that, outside Italy, restaurants use various methods to avoid the time-consuming preparation, which must be done immediately before service – all of which produce an inferior product compared with the real thing – so it's hard to even get a sense of what you're aiming at without a trip to Italy.
Fortunately the technique is quite simple.
From Elizabeth David, in her classic "Italian Food:"
"Into a heavy pan put a good ounce of butter....In the butter fry a small onion cut very fine; let it turn pale gold but not brown....Now add the rice, allowing about 3 oz. per person....
Stir the rice until it is well impregnated with the butter. It must remain white. Now pour in two thirds of a tumbler of dry white wine and let it cook on a moderate flame until the wine has almost evaporated.
At this moment start adding the stock...add about a breakfast cupful (in American terms, a regular measuring cup) at a time, and keep your eye on the risotto, although at this stage it is not essential to stir continuously.
As the stock becomes absorbed add more; in all you will need about 2 pints for 10 - 12 oz of rice, and if this in not quite enough, dilute it with hot water. Towards the end of the cooking, which will take 20 - 30 minutes, stir continuously using a wooden fork rather than a spoon, which tends to crush the grains.
When you see that the rice is tender, the mixture creamy but not sticky....add 1 oz each of butter and grated Parmesan, and serve the risotto as soon as the cheese has melted."
To which I can only add:
1. For 6 half-cup servings, I use 1 cup rice, 1/3 C wine and 3-4 cups stock. Since it will be concentrated by the slow cooking, the stock should be unsalted.
2. The hardest part is knowing when it's done. Taste the rice: it should be firmly al dente but not chalky-hard in the middle. If in doubt, stop when it's still a little resistant to the tooth, remove from heat, cover and wait a few minutes. It should be fine.
3. The possible combinations of stock flavors and add-ins are infinite: the best thing to do is to go wild with invention.
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