Risotto with Sausages

I have a wonderful story to take us into the holiday season.  It begins on a dark and stormy night.  RJ had a late meeting and I was staying with my parents to avoid the long drive in the rain.  cookbooksA colleague of RJ’s, Cameron, found out that his plane was cancelled due to the weather, and RJ offered him the couch at our condo for the evening.  Though I was not there to meet Cameron, I was apparently quite the topic of conversation.  Cameron took one look at my shelves upon shelves of cookbooks and back issues of food magazines, and began to question RJ about his wife the cook. (please note that the accompanying picture shows only about a quarter of the total space taken up by these books!)

RJ has never been wildly enthusiastic about my ridiculous number of cooking tomes, but he is always supportive when the food comes out!  He must, however, have said some good things about me, because about a week after Cameron’s visit we received a package in the mail.  Cameron had sent me a new cookbook for my collection!  His note indicated that it was one of his favorites and that he was happy to share it with someone who clearly would appreciate it.  

I found that package to be one of the most heart-warming things I had ever received.  Never having met Cameron, I was quite surprised that he would send me a gift, let alone such a thoughtful one!  I was tremendously touched.  All the more so when I tried my first recipe from the book and realized that it was just as much of a gem as he said.  So, thank you Cameron.  You’re welcome at our house anytime!

Risotto with Sausages, adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (serves 6)

2 1/2 c. beef broth
2 1/2 c. water or chicken broth
4 Tbs. butter, divided
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced thin (or minced fine for a much quicker caramelization)
2 Tbs. oil
3/4 lb. mild, sweet pork sausage, cut into disks about 1/3 inch thick
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. Arborio rice
Black pepper
1/2 c. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese


Bring the broth and the water or chicken stock to a very slow, steady simmer in a medium saucepan. Melt 3 Tbs. butter in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook until the onion becomes a deep caramel color (15-35 minutes depending on the size of the sliced/diced onions). Do not let the onions burn – make sure to stir frequently!

Remove half of the onions to a small dish and add 2 Tbs. oil to the rest on the stove. Add the sliced sausage. Cook until the sausage is browned well on both sides, then add the wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. When the wine has bubbled away completely [don’t you just love how Marcella writes a cookbook??], add the rice, stirring quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.


Add 1/2 c. of simmering broth mixture to the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is gone. “You must never stop stirring,” says Marcella. When there is no more liquid in the rice, add another 1/2 c. of broth, continuing always to stir. Begin to taste the rice after 20 min. of cooking. Finish cooking the rice with broth or, if you run out, with water. It is done when it is tender, but firm to the bite. As it approaches that stage, gradually reduce the amount of liquid you’re adding. The final risotto should be served slightly moist but not runny.

Off the heat, season to taste with pepper, 1 Tbs. butter, the grated parmesan and the caramelized onions you set aside earlier. You may also choose to stir in 1 Tbs. finely chopped sage. Taste and see if you need any salt – usually the parmesan does the trick.

And to Cameron, if you’re out there reading, this is all that was left:


Chive Risotto Cakes

risotto-cake-closeup When I started this blog oh so many, um…days ago, I asked myself a very important question: as I work my way through all of these millions of recipes that I have in piles, cookbooks, and Firefox bookmarks, will I post all of my results, or just the best ones?  Will people want to read about a failed attempt at a standing rib roast, or is that pointless?  Am I making recipe recommendations or offering people a chance to learn from my kitchen forays?
I said that I asked myself that question, but I never said I answered it.  Until today, it really has not been an issue!  Not that I am some culinary prodigy in the kitchen or anything, but in my first month of blogging, I haven’t yet had a disaster, and so I have been content to post about nearly all my recent recipe trials.

This is not to say that the chive risotto cakes were a disaster for me.  In fact, I think I would be more excited about the post if they had been.  I could have featured my Italian version of a “Cake Wreck” (get it? 😉 )!  No, they did not fail completely – more like a B minus.  However, those with whom I went to college know that such a grade could send me reeling for days…

I suppose I should preface the whole discussion with the fact that RJ and I love risotto.  Not only does it fit into the warm-and-hearty comfort food category while still being an excellent option for entertaining, but risotto has a special place in my heart because it is one of the only dishes into which I can insert vegetables without RJ flipping out.  His recent acceptance of onions, mushrooms, and butternut squash all resulted from one of my risotto variations.  Generally, I will cook risotto on a night when I have time to stand around the stove for an hour or so, and we will have leftovers for Day 2.  If you’ve never tried to reheat risotto in a microwave before, please trust me: it isn’t very pretty.  It comes out gummy and sticky and nowhere near as good as fresh risotto.  But the stickiness may be used to great advantage, also.  Cold leftover risotto of any flavor can be molded into round balls, rolled in panko crumbs, slightly flattened into a hamburger shape, then pan fried in butter or oil.  You will end up with a crispy browned crust and an oozy, like-Day-1 risotto center.

Reading Deb’s pick for the Barefoot Bloggers‘ Bonus recipe, I was actually thrilled.  Ina’s description explicitly claimed that her recipe provides risotto cakes without the Day-1 effort of stirring and gradually adding stock ladle by ladle.  “Brilliant!”, I exclaimed.

risotto-cake-miseI gathered my ingredients and even went to my favorite cheese shop for fine imported Fontina.  Though the chives were a bit yellowed in some places, I figured I would only use the best ones and we’d be fine.  But all the Fontina val d’Aosta and fresh-from-the-ground chives in the world could not save these risotto cakes.  I am interested to see if the others felt the same as I did, or if I have just been spoiled by having ‘real’ risotto cakes as part of my repertoire for a while now, but I thought these suffered severely from the outset due to one major flaw in the directions – you cannot cook risotto in water!  My cakes tasted, well, watery – comparable to how the inside of a baked potato with chives might taste if you omitted salt, butter, and sour cream.

To defend Ina’s honor, I probably could have salted the water more, or incorporated even more cheese or dried the rice in paper towels as opposed to a sieve.  But none of that could have compensated for the flavor that chicken broth gives to risotto. That just wasn’t there.  Even with all the cheese the recipe called for, the rice was barely holding together in balls because of the way the rice had been waterlogged.  My clear conviction is that there is no shortcut to risotto, and thus no shortcut to the crispy cakes.  Go the traditional route and make your favorite risotto dish.  Then, on Day 2, treat yourself to your own homemade creation, covered in panko and fried.

Well, this is the moment of truth.  Do I post the recipe?  Will posting it diminish my integrity as a blogger or detract from my validity as messenger of good taste?  I think not.  You’ve read my opinion of the recipe above, but of course you all have the ability to make up your own minds.  Perhaps reading the recipe will give us all some insight into where it goes wrong.  Conversely, you may set out to prove that Ina is right and I am not, and I invite you to share your results with me in the comments section.  Just don’t ever say I didn’t give you fair warning.

Chive Risotto Cakes, from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basicsrisotto-cake-mix

Kosher salt
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 ½ cup cups grated Italian Fontina cheese (5 ounces)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Good olive oil

Bring a large (4 quart) pot of water to a boil and add ½ tablespoon salt and the Arborio rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. The grains of rice will be quite soft. Drain the rice in a sieve and run under cold water until cool. Drain well.
Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, chives, Fontina, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, and the pepper in a medium bowl. Add the cooled rice and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, until firm.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Spread the panko in a shallow dish. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Form balls of the rice mixture using a standard (2 1/4 –inch) ice cream scoop or a large spoon. Pat the balls into patties 3 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Place 4-6 patties in the panko, turning once to coat. Place the patties in the hot oil and cook, turning once, for about 3 minutes on each side until the risotto cakes are crisp and nicely browned. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Continue cooking in batches, adding oil as necessary, until all the cakes are fried. Serve hot.