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Variations on a risotto theme.

Stir it up: 3 simple ways to riff on risotto

Saffron, butternut squash and wild mushroom risottos wow students at Alvernia chef’s table event. Get the three-in-one recipe here.

Risotto’s versatile magic was unveiled at a recent chef’s table event at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa. Students learned that on top of being creamy, comforting and perfect for winter, risotto is also open to interpretation, a quick-change artist of rice, wine and aromatics.

Joe Palmieri, executive chef with Aladdin, a member of Elior North America family of companies, stirred up three different risottos, serving them in sample sizes so students could try them all. The chef’s table was held in The Wolves’ Den, the school’s dining venue next to the main dining hall, and Palmieri set up for some action cooking, something he likes to do every month, so students “can put a face to who his cooking and learn about what we do,” he says.

Risotto is a dish known for lots of stirring and just as much patience, adding liquid and waiting for the rice to absorb that liquid, making it ideal for an action station. And there could be more risotto in the future for Alvernia students, since the chef’s table events oftentimes will lead to new menu items on the regular five-week menu rotation.

3 variations of risotto

YIELD: 6 servings

For saffron risotto:
2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups chicken stock, kept hot
2 Tbsps. + 2 Tbsps. butter
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 cup white wine
¾ cup Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

For wild mushroom risotto:
2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups beef stock, kept hot
2 Tbsps. + 2 Tbsps. butter
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 lb. wild mushrooms
1 cup white wine
¾ cup Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh thyme, for garnish

For butternut squash risotto:
2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups chicken stock, kept hot
2 Tbsps. + 2 Tbsps. butter
1 cup diced yellow onion
1.5 cups diced butternut squash
1 cup white wine
¾ cup Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. For saffron risotto: Heat 2 Tbsps. butter in large skillet.
2.  Add onions and saute until soft, 2-3 minutes.
3. Add rice and cook 3 minutes longer to open up grain of rice.
4. Add saffron and white wine and reduce about ¾ of the way.
5. Start to add the hot stock 1 cup at a time while stirring rice.
6. Let rice absorb stock ¾ of the way before adding next cup.
7. Continue process of adding stock and stirring rice for about 20 minutes or until most of stock is used.
8. Taste rice for doneness and seasoning. Rice should be firm and creamy. It’s possible you may not need all stock, or you may need more.
9. Once rice is done, add remaining 2 Tbps. butter and Reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.
10. For wild mushroom risotto: Follow above steps, but replace chicken stock with beef stock, add mushrooms with onions in step 2, omit saffron and add fresh thyme to garnish.
11. For butternut squash risotto: Follow above steps, but add squash with onions in step 2 and omit saffron.

Photos and recipes: Aladdin, a member of Elior North America family of companies

Students line up to sample chef Joe Palmieri's risotto dishes.

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