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Recipe: Lettuce Risotto

(CBS News) The following recipe comes courtesy of chef Lidia Bastianich.

Risotto is always a delicious option for dinner, but for those times when you have nothing to flavor your risotto with, look in the salad bin of your refrigerator and make a great risotto with your salad greens. Lettuce is recommended in this recipe, but another great, economical version is with the tougher outer leaves of any salad green you have in the refrigerator. Use the tender, heart part of the greens to toss a green salad that you can serve alongside the risotto. You will have a balanced and delicious meal, and you will have found a use for everything, wasting nothing. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I use every morsel of food. I hate waste.

The Basics of Risotto

The Liquid Used - Some people are surprised to learn that you can make risotto with plain water. Of course you can, since the chemical processes are the same whatever liquid you use. If you have broth of any kind, and you want its particular flavor in your dish, use it. It will impart more flavor, but simple water will do.

The Aromatics - Onions, cooked properly, provide a fine sweet base of flavor for simple risotto, but greater and more complex flavors will come if you add chopped leeks, shallots, and scallions. Shallots have a strong initial flavor but they mellow during cooking and they completely disappear in the risotto. Leek pieces will not disappear, but they add lovely flavor, as do scallions. You can add up to 2 cups of leeks, scallions, or shallots to the pan, after the onions have started to sweat and wilt. But all moisture should be cooked out of them before toasting the rice. For each additional cup of onions, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

The Amount of Liquid - There’s no set amount, but a general guideline for liquid is three and a half times the amount of rice; the liquid, whether water or stock, should be hot and ready on the stove. The amount of liquid needed may vary because it will evaporate at different rates in different pans and with different heat intensities. What is important is to add liquid until you have produced a risotto with the texture you like.

The Finishing Touches - It is important to understand that both olive oil and butter have the amalgamating property -- bringing everything together texturally -- that is always needed as a “finish” for risotto (this process, to cook until creamy, is referred to as mantecare in Italian). Many people mistakenly think that butter (and lots of it) is always required as the finish, to make risotto creamy. (And some chefs whip in butter to give risotto creaminess when it wasn’t developed through proper cooking technique.) But our basic recipe shows that you develop the creaminess by the slow release of starch and proper cooking. Olive oil at the end adds a nice complexity that does not alter the essential flavor of the risotto: it is a clean, pristine finish. I like to use olive oil as a finish for fish risotti and some vegetable risotti, because it leaves the clean flavors of the fish and vegetables pure and vibrant.

Butter, on the other hand, is a marvelous liaison: it makes the risotto even creamier and buttery. I use it with all meat or mushroom and some vegetable risotti. The butter makes the dish rich and creamy, magnifying and to some extent altering the flavor. This can be desirable, and there are many risotti in which I love to use it.

Lettuce Risotto
Risotto alla Lattuga
Serves 6

7 cups or more hot Chicken Stock, preferably homemade
Kosher salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped leek, white and light-green parts only
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
8 ounces outer lettuce leaves (romaine, Bibb, etc.), shredded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano


Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan, and season with salt.

Heat the olive oil in a large, shallow, straight-sided pot over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and leek, saute for 1 minute, then ladle in ½ cup hot stock to soften the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are tender and stock has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the rice all at once, and stir continuously until the grains are toasted but not colored, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid is almost absorbed.

Add the shredded lettuce, and cook until wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Ladle in about 2 cups of the stock, stir, and cook until almost absorbed, about 5 minutes. Ladle in 1 more cup of the stock, and again simmer until the liquid is almost absorbed.

Continue cooking and adding stock in this manner until the rice is cooked al dente but still with texture, about 15 to 20 minutes in all. When the risotto is creamy, turn off the heat. Beat in the butter, stir in the cheese, season with salt if necessary, and serve.

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See more recipes from "Sunday Morning"'s 2013 "Food Issue"
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