In the risotto chapter of his new cookbook, "A Passion for Piedmont" (Morrow, 1997), Matt Kramer stresses the simplicity of risotto, and none exemplifies this simplicity better than the Lemon Risotto, which we excerpted from his book in October. Kramer reminds us that in Italy, the risotto or rice dish is not a side dish, as are most rice dishes elsewhere in the world, but rather the focus of the meal. This risotto is cooked slowly and patiently to tease the creamy essence out of the rice itself.
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, plus 2 optional tablespoons butter
1 onion or 4 large shallots, very finely chopped
2 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 large egg yolk
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese
Bring stock to boil and immediately reduce to simmer.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Raise heat to high and add rice all at once, stirring vigorously, until grains are translucent and "pearl" in each grain appears clearly, about 1 minute. Immediately reduce heat to low and add 2 or 3 ladles of simmering stock, just barely enough to cover rice. Season with salt to taste and stir briefly. Adjust heat throughout process so stock is barely bubbling. When air holes start to appear on surface, after about 2 minutes, add another ladle of stock. Continue to cook and add stock, tasting for salt from time to time, taking care not to use too much.
Meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk together egg yolk and lemon zest and juice. Set aside.
After 18 to 20 minutes, rice should be close to tender-but-firm stage, neither hard nor too mushy. Risotto is done when you decide that just 1 more ladle of stock will bring rice to its full glory. Err on slightly liquid side, because rice will continue to absorb stock.
Modify body of risotto by stirring in little more stock, then immediately remove pan from heat.
Slowly swirl in egg yolk mixture, stirring in thoroughly. Add grated Parmigiano, stirring again. Check for texture. If consistency is too dry, stir in little stock. Add 2 tablespoons butter, if you wish, stirring in. Serve immediately on very hot plates.