Traditional Italian risotto is made with butter, chicken broth, cream, and white Arborio rice. This lighter, vegan variety made with brown rice captures the sensual, hearty essence of the classic dish while integrating some of the season’s popular flavors.
Italian chef Marlena de Blasi writes that making risotto is akin to dancing. When making risotto with a partner, you take turns stirring the rice and ladling the broth. With warm aroma filling the kitchen (and perhaps a glass of wine in hand), it’s easy to turn the process of cooking risotto in to a festive ritual. When my mother and I find ourselves on the same side of the country, we always make time for risotto. I don’t know what’s more fulfilling—making risotto or sharing it. My fiancé loves this dish—in fact, it was the first thing I ever cooked for him! For me, there has always been something magical about this slow, sultry dish.
Whether you’re making risotto with a friend or by yourself, be sure to allow at least one hour for the risotto dance.
7-8 cups veggie broth
2 cups brown rice
1 cup blueberries
1 cup dry, red or white wine*
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 onion, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 tbls. olive oil
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
*Substitute freshly squeezed lemon juice for a bright alternative to wine. Or, combine ½ grape juice with ½ cup veggie broth for another alcohol-free option.
In a large pot set to medium-low heat, sauté onions to translucency in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for about a minute, being careful not to let it burn. Next, increase heat to medium, add another tablespoon of olive oil, and stir in brown rice. Stir constantly for about five minutes, allowing the rice to lightly toast—your nose will tell you when the rice is perfectly toasted.
Reduce heat back to medium-low, and add wine to the mixture. Stir frequently while the rice absorbs the wine. Optional: pour a glass for yourself.
Between stirs, add veggie broth to a sauce pan and bring to a simmer.
While the rice is absorbing the wine, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a separate pan at a low heat. Throw in the shallots. To caramelize: stir shallots intermittently as you prepare the risotto. If the shallots begin to dry out and crisp, add another splash of olive oil or vegetable broth. Caramelized shallots should be soft with lightly crisped edges and have a sweet taste. When the shallots are almost done, stir in the blueberries, and allow them to warm for a few minutes (the purpose is merely to warm them, not cook them).
After the rice has absorbed most of the wine, add 1 cup of veggie broth, stirring the rice until it absorbs the broth. Repeat this process for about 45 minutes. As the rice continues to absorb liquid, it forms its own lovely sauce. Towards the end of the process, keep testing small spoonfuls. Rice should be al dente.
Reduce the heat on the risotto to low. Stir in pumpkin purée and nutmeg. Taste test the risotto once more, and add any necessary salt and pepper. Dish risotto into bowls, and top with caramelized shallots and warmed blueberries.
Photo: Mary Hood