My version of risotto adds the complex depth of spice at every stage of cooking. Because spices infuse the liquid, water is the base here, not stock. But the resulting dish still tastes rich with the addition of mascarpone and Parmesan. You can prepare most of the risotto ahead of time (see step 5). Whether you do that or go from start to finish, the timing may vary depending on the grains. Different brands and varieties of rice absorb liquid at different rates. Risotto is all about feel. You’ll sense the push and pull of the rice as you stir, the liquid soaking into the grains and becoming a starchy sauce.
Celery seeds and garlic add a savory note to the natural sweetness of the rice and onion. Rosemary and fennel give this a classic Italian feel.
Recipe by Lior Lev Sercarz, from “Mastering Spice” by Lior Lev Sercarz
See instructions in step 5.
Main Spice Blend
1⁄2 teaspoon celery seeds (1 gram)
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seeds (2 grams)
2 teaspoons dried garlic slices (3 grams)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (1 gram)
1⁄2 teaspoon black peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry (2 grams)
Finely grind together the celery seeds, fennel, garlic, rosemary, and peppercorns.
Note: you can also use our Ayala N16 blend to season this dish, just measure out 7 grams, add 2 grams of fennel, and grind it all finely.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 1⁄2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (4 ounces)
1. To make the risotto: Combine half the spice blend and a generous pinch of salt with 4 1⁄2 cups cold water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer.
2. Meanwhile, coat a large sauté pan with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons) and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, a pinch of the spice blend, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the rice, stir well, and spread it in a thin, even layer. Let sit for a minute, then stir it gently until the grains turn translucent at their ends and smell a little toasty, about 5 minutes. They shouldn’t darken at all in color, and there shouldn’t be any fat left in the pan.
4. Add the wine and stir well. The liquids should be thick at this point— that’s the starch coming out of the rice. Add the remaining spice blend and stir until there’s just a little wine still coating the pan.
5. Add 2⁄3 cup of the spice broth, stir well, and spread the rice in an even layer. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Let sit for a minute and stir again. Repeat until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add 1⁄3 cup of the broth and repeat the spreading, sitting, and stirring, about 3 minutes. Repeat two more times. At this point, the grains should have doubled in size. Season to taste with salt. You’re at the halfway point, and you can stop cooking now, transfer the risotto to an airtight container, and refrigerate it for up to 3 days before finishing (pick up the recipe at step 6).
6. If you’re going to continue cooking, keep adding broth 1⁄3 cup at a time, stirring, spreading, sitting, and stirring again, until the rice is almost al dente. You should have about 2⁄3 cup broth left. You know the rice is ready at this point when you pull the spoon from the center to the edge of the pan and the mixture flows back like lava.
7. Fold in the mascarpone until incorporated and then add another 1⁄3 cup of the broth and stir well. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining broth and then the Parmesan. The rice should be al dente and the whole mixture should be quite loose. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.
pea, asparagus, and herb risotto with green peppercorns
All the flavors of spring come together in this risotto. Dried basil, mint, and tarragon rehydrate during the simmer for an intensely herbaceous flavor that highlights the sweetness of peas and the freshness of asparagus.
Finely grind together the basil, mint, tarragon, and green peppercorns. Use this spice blend instead of the main spice blend in the risotto recipe.
Follow the risotto recipe, adding 1⁄2 cup cooked and chilled fresh English peas or thawed frozen peas and 1⁄2 cup thinly sliced raw asparagus at the end of step 6.