“I was always taught that good risotto starts with high-quality bone broth, but what if I don’t want to spend twenty bucks on dinner?” asks Sohla El-Waylly in her just-published, debut cookbook, Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook.
It’s a fair question. Risotto is among the most comforting of foods, the kind of thing you want to eat when you’re sad, broke, and/or have nothing in your kitchen. But that quality feels somewhat incongruous with two of risotto’s most classic ingredients: good broth and wine.
I know that both of these ingredients are considered pantry staples, but for some reason, every time I’ve felt the urge to make risotto, I’ve had neither on hand. Maybe this is just a “me problem”… but even if you always have wine and broth stocked in your pantry, making a dish using fewer, cheaper ingredients never hurts.
Here, Sohla (who used to be a Food52 Resident!) “deeply char[s] cut lemons in olive oil until the fat is speckled with bits of burnt flesh” to imbue the oil with a deep, citrusy flavor.
“Don’t be alarmed,” she advises. The lemons will look burnt from the char, but “the bitterness from the blackening, once combined with salty Parmesan and butter, adds unbelievable depth and richness.” The lemons’ acidity, meanwhile, fulfills a similar role as white wine would in a traditional risotto, “[slapping] you with its brightness, so even with all that creaminess, your palate is never weighed down.”
Thanks to these deeply flavorful lemons, the only liquid you need to add to the risotto is warm water—specifically, the same water that you used to rinse your rice. Using that starchy liquid to cook the risotto, you’ll end up with a creamier, saucier dish. (Sohla credits J. Kenji Lopez-Alt with inventing this clever method.)
Once the rice is almost tender, grated Parm and butter are added, and the whole thing is stirred until emulsified. The risotto is then finished with the juice of all those lemons you previously charred, waking up the entire dish with brightness and acidity. Ready to try it for yourself? Find the full recipe below.
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