There’s nothing like a good, creamy risotto, and this just happens to be a great one, full of interesting flavors and textures. If you’ve never made risotto before, the method I prefer only requires stirring at the end, so you won’t be left tending to the stove for 20 straight minutes. Sure, the process may not be 100% authentic, but the results are, in my opinion, nearly indistinguishable from a product obtained by constant stirring. Be sure to buy Arborio rice from the bulk bins, preferably from a store that specializes in bulk, like Winco or a co-op; for some reason it’s prohibitively expensive on the shelf.
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated. As below, it makes 5 large servings.
• 2 large chicken thighs or breasts, skin-on or not (about 1 lb): $1.69
• 2 cups Arborio rice (don’t think you can just substitute short-grain rice because it looks similar. Trust me—it has to be the real thing or else it won’t work): $1.85
• 1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped, fronds reserved: $1.19
• 1 large onion, chopped: 20 cents
• 2 garlic cloves, minced: 1 cent
• 5 cups chicken stock (left over frozen): $0
• 2 T fat (butter or oil…I used leftover rendered chicken fat from another project. It lasts forever in the fridge): $0
• 2 T butter (has to be butter): 12 cents
• 1 cup dry white wine: 88 cents
• 2 oz. grated Parmesan: $1.50
• 1 tsp juice and 1 tsp zest from 1 lemon: 28 cents
• 1/3 cup chopped green olives (the ones with pimentos are OK): 50 cents
• Large handful parsley leaves: 5 cents
• Salt and pepper to taste: 2 cents
TOTAL: $8.29/5 = $1.66/serving
Bring the chicken stock and 1 1/2 cups water to boil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken (it can even be frozen) and simmer until cooked through.
Remove and transfer to a cutting board. Chop finely or shred. Keep the stock warm.
Heat the 2 T fat in a large Dutch oven (or other heavy pot with lid) over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and a pinch of salt and cook until onion is translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook until the edges are translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir 5 cups of the stock into the rice. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes, stirring twice during cooking. Add 3/4 cup stock (or water, if you’re out of stock) to the risotto and stir gently and constantly to release the starch in the rice until it starts to become noticeably creamy, a little over 3 minutes. Stir in cheese and olives, remove from the heat, and let sit covered for 5 minutes (do not skip this step; it’s essential for proper texture).
Meanwhile, chop about 2 T each parsley and reserved fennel fronds.
Stir in chicken, 2 T butter, lemon juice and zest, parsley, and fennel. Season to taste. Add additional stock or water to loosen texture, if desired.