It’s spring cookbook season, and there’s a lot of noteworthy pulp by local authors out and about. You’ve already heard about the wonders of The Kefir Cookbook by Julie Smolyansky. In a week or two I’ll take a look at Korean BBQ by Bill Kim and Plate magazine editor Chandra Ram. There’s also Craft Coffee by Jessica Easto, which actually came out last year (I’ve been sleeping on it). But last weekend I spent some time with Risotto & Beyond by gentleman chef and fennel pollen maestro John Coletta of Quartino fame, along with Monica Kass Rogers and the late Nancy Ross Ryan.

Coletta already has one book under his belt, the dependable 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes, and he’s one of the pioneers of the new charcuterie movement in Chicago, so I might’ve expected (hoped for?) something along those lines for a second book.

But I love risotto. It was one of the first things I learned to cook well, working my way through the recipes in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic of Italian Cooking, following the  orthodoxy of CONSTANTLY stirring your risotto, until eventually I came across a heretical recipe by some insurrectionist who claimed you didn’t really need to stir risotto. The occasional shake in the pan was enough to create the gentle all’onda, or wave, that allows the starches in the grains to break down and give the dish its characteristic creaminess. It was true. The rice maintains it structural integrity to boot, and you don’t end up with a lot of leftover mush. Coletta offers two alternative no-stir methods in addition to stirring until your arm falls off.

He also gets into the weeds of the history of Italian rice, explains which grains are best with different dishes (it ain’t all arborio), and provides wine pairing advice for each recipe from Eataly sommelier Torrence O’Haire. In addition to his 24 recipes for risotto he has them for antipasti (arancini with mozz, of course), soups (vegetable and rice minestrone with lardo), salads (rice salad with fresh brook trout and asparagus), one-dish meals (rice timbale with Neapolitan sauce and poached egg), and dolce (strawberry rice cream).

Last weekend I settled on Coletta’s risotto with radicchio, in part because I fancied the vivid, almost bloody color it takes on in the book. The radicchio mellows in the brodo, leaving just a gentle bitterness. It has a really nice texture too, with the addition of chopped almonds. Coletta says he sometimes serves this risotto at the restaurant for private functions.

Tutto finisce a tarallucci e vino*

Risotto with Radicchio
Risotto al Radicchio Rosso

The peppery flavor of radicchio is very popular in Italy. Cooking it slightly mellows the taste of the vegetable. While there are many varieties grown in Italy, the variety most prevalent elsewhere is radicchio di chioggia, a small round head with white and maroon leaves—a fine choice for this dish. Another variety, radicchio di Treviso, which resembles a large, red Belgian endive, is nice here, too. Be sure to core the heads and remove the stems—you’ll only be using the leaves in the recipe. MAKES 6 SERVINGS

WINE PAIRING: Any fruity, earthy, medium-weight red would be delicious here, but if you’d like to get nerdy, this is a perfect opportunity to hunt down a Teroldego. From the same corner of northern Italy that made radicchio popular, Teroldego wines are a straightforward, uncomplicated balance of acid-driven fruit and smoky minerality, with clear flavors of pomegranate, blackberry, and licorice, and a nicely bittersweet tannic finish.

½ cup coarsely chopped almonds, skin on or off
1 large or 2 small heads radicchio
cored and stemmed, leaves roughly chopped to make 3 cups
¹⁄³ cup extra virgin olive oil
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon finely ground sea salt
½ teaspoon finely ground white pepper

6 cups vegetable broth or water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 slice medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped to make ¼ cup
½ teaspoon finely ground sea salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon finely ground white pepper, plus more as needed
1¼ cups superfino rice, preferably Baldo, Carnaroli, or Roma, not Arborio
¹⁄³ cup dry Italian red wine
½ large head radicchio, cored and stemmed, leaves thinly sliced to make 1¹⁄³ cups, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, finely grated to make
¾ cup, plus curls or shavings for garnish

MAKE THE PESTO: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds, radicchio, olive oil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Pulse to process into a smooth puree. Set aside.

MAKE THE RISOTTO: In a medium heavy-gauge saucepan or pot, heat the vegetable broth to boiling over medium heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer. In a medium heavy-gauge sauté pan or skillet at least 3 inches deep (with lid handy), warm the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent but not browned. It’s okay to add 2 tablespoons water to help the onion soften without browning, just be sure the water has evaporated before moving to the next step. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes, until the kernels are well coated. Pour in the red wine, stirring until the wine has completely evaporated.

Ladle ½ cup of the hot vegetable broth into the rice and stir until reduced by two thirds. Add another ladleful and again stir until reduced by two thirds. Repeat this process until most of the vegetable broth has been incorporated and the rice is tender but not mushy, with a creamy consistency. (You may have as much as a cup of broth left unused.) When stirred, the rice should move across the pan in a slow wave (all’onda). This should take about 14 minutes from the time you begin ladling the broth into the rice.

Remove the risotto from the heat. Stir in ½ cup of the radicchio pesto; reserve the remaining pesto for another use. Cover the pot for 2 minutes. Add the thinly sliced radicchio leaves, butter, and cheese and stir until creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the risotto into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with additional sliced radicchio, if desired, and cheese curls or shavings. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from Risotto and Beyond: 100 Authentic Italian Rice Recipes for Antipasti, Soups, Salads, Risotti, One-Dish Meals, and Desserts, Rizzoli, New York

* It all ends with biscuits and wine.

Correction: This post was updated to include Coletta’s coauthors.