Ellie's Cucina Italiana

I’m going to share a little secret with all of you today…all good cooks cheat. We do, it’s true. We beg, borrow, and steal ideas from one another. We alter them with “a little of this” and “a little of that” to make them our own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my mom in the kitchen and then spiced up her recipe and made it my own. And likewise, I can’t count how many times I’ve emailed a good friend a recipe that’s been altered. I never mind though, there’s always room for variation!

Here’s something else I love to do. I love to try new restaurants out and try new foods. I make a game out of guessing the ingredients and spices used. I love to go home and try making it on my own. It may take me a couple of times but I usually do get it. Once I’ve mastered the recipe I like to switch it up and make it my own. Here’s another secret, cooks are egotistical…we always think our food is better. I’m no different; I always end up liking my version better than what was served in the restaurant.

There’s one Italian dish that gets me every time, I’ve had it a million times, served in a million different recipes, and served as an appetizer, side, and main dish. If it’s on the menu, I’m ordering it. Italian risotto (riz-o-toe!) is incredible to put it mildly. Risotto is to Northern Italy what pasta is to Southern Italy. In fact, because my mom and dad were born and raised in Southern Italy, risotto is not something that was served at our dinner table. Who knows, maybe that’s why I love it so. If given the choice, I’ll pick risotto over pasta any day.

So what is risotto? What makes this rice so great? It’s made with Arborio rice, which is a short grain rice, in fact, it looks more like a cross between rice and pasta than it does the traditional rice we’re all accustomed to. You can find it in any Italian specialty store although most supermarkets carry it as well. There are two brands that I prefer to use, although any will do. My favorite brand is DeCicco and when I can not find that, my back up is Scalfani. The rice itself is slow cooked, stirred often; it’s creamier and more decadent than traditional rice. It’s layered in wine and chicken stock to draw out its full flavor. But, be forewarned, risotto takes time to cook and it requires your full attention, you can not walk away while preparing. But trust me; it is so worth the time it takes. Here’s my favorite recipe, straight from my kitchen. I like to serve this as a side dish because it’s so rich. This is a great side dish to a nice Filet Mignon – it’s a great meal if you’re trying to impress someone. 😉

Mushroom and Sausage Risotto

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Feeds: 6 adults (as side dish)

* 4 Sweet Italian Sausages (casings removed and crumbled into very small pieces)
* 1/2 one small white onion (chopped very fine)
* 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
* 1 small package of Baby Bella chopped mushrooms (you may want to cut in half to make smaller)
* Cup of dry white wine
* 1 box of Arborio Risotto
* 3 pats of butter (unsalted preferably)
* 1 large can of chicken stock, plus half of additional small can
* 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1. Heat skillet over medium high heat, add crumbled sausage. Let brown, break up into small (very small!) crumbled bits with a fork. Once cooked remove to a dish with paper towel to let excess oil drain off. Cover with foil, will add to rice later.
2. Add cup of white wine to same skillet sausage was in and get brown bits off bottom. Remove wine from skillet and set aside. Will use later.
3. Add butter to skillet, let melt, careful not to burn. Add mushrooms (no salt!) and let brown. When cooked, remove from heat. Will add to rice later.
4. In a large pot, heat chicken stock. (Keep simmering at all times, never remove from direct heat).
5. In another large pot, add olive oil and let heat. Add chopped onions, careful not to burn. When onions become translucent, add the rice, directly from the box and into the pan. (Do not wash rice first!)
6. Stir well so that each grain of rice is covered in oil.
7. Add wine and stir.
8. Add in mushrooms and sausage.
9. When wine is almost fully absorbed by rice, add a ladle of stock. You may need to add two. You will continue adding 1 to 2 ladles of chicken stock to rice as it becomes absorbed, ALWAYS STIRRING. Reduce flame to medium low. You will continue to stir and add chicken stock until rice is completely cooked through. It is very important that the rice mixture is kept moist, you must constantly add liquid. You should use most, if not all, the chicken stock.
10. When rice is completely cooked through, stir in Parmigiano Reggiano.

I hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as we enjoy it in my home. It’s one of our all time favorites, and when cooked slowly and attentively, it’s pure delight!

Enjoy!
Ellie