Whether you’re cooking with simple ingredients or making an extravagant dish, taking the time to build flavors is an important step in the cooking process. Sometimes you might not have the time to give your food a lot of love and attention and just need a quick and easy meal to make on a weeknight. But when you have a few extra minutes to devote to dinner, make that meal count and create some great flavors.
One dish that’s easy to transform is risotto. It’s the perfect blank canvas that can be built into a balanced and delicious dish using aromatics, herbs, and a little wine. The one thing to remember is that flavor is more than something you taste. It’s about the texture, the smell, and the way the food feels in your mouth.
Build a Strong Aromatic Base
To start the flavor-building process for risotto, focus on the aroma of the dish because it’s a big part of what we taste. Onions and garlic are aromatics and create a great base for many dishes. For this dish, chop up some onions and start sweating them in a skillet with a little bit of salt to help cook them fast and draw out the moisture. When the onions are almost done, add about two cloves of garlic. In another pan, simmer about 2 quarts of a protein stock. It will be added to the risotto.
When the aromatics are tender, add a tablespoon of butter to the skillet and then start toasting the Arborio rice. After 2–3 minutes, add some fresh thyme and sun-dried tomatoes. This will give the dish a savory flavor.
At this point, it’s time to add some white wine, up to ½ cup. After that, start adding stock—one to two ladles at a time—and let the rice absorb the liquid. There’s starch on the outside of the rice and every time you stir it you’re knocking off starch and creating a rich, creamy flavor and texture. Cook the risotto over medium heat, stirring often, for about 15–20 minutes.
Create a Cocktail to Pair With the Risotto
Traditionally-made risotto takes time to cook and build flavor—which means you have time to make a cocktail. A great way to incorporate the flavors of your dish into a cocktail is by using similar ingredients. Use the thyme in this dish and add it to a cocktail like a Classic Whiskey Sour. The recipe calls for two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of simple syrup, and one ounce of lemon juice with some fresh thyme. Once you’ve mixed it all up, pour it into a glass and add a sprig of thyme for a garnish.
Balance the Flavor at the End
What is the right consistency for risotto? You’ll know the risotto is done when you drag your spoon across the pan and the rice comes back together. If it’s too thick, just add a little more liquid.
Once the risotto is close to being the right consistency, have a taste. It should be soft and have just a little bit of a bite to it. If the texture is good, add spinach and let it wilt down. Then, grate some Parmesan cheese and add a little butter to round out the flavors. At the very end, balance everything out with a little lemon zest.
If you want to add crunch to the meal, add toasted bread crumbs. Toast them in a microwaveable bowl with some butter, lemon zest, and thyme. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and viola—dinner’s done!