Chicken Pesto Risotto

Feed an army for just $3.18 per person! (14 people for under $50)

We’re gonna stay in Italy this week, alright kids? And, in complete contrast to what I said last week, not all the food in Italy is “rustic.”  Risotto is one of the pinnacles of chef skill.  Hell, half the people that got eliminated from Top Chef were eliminated because of their risottos.

And, ironically, along with a three-course fondue, it is one of the first things I taught myself to make. I never did believe in starting easy, I guess.

So, if I could make this dish in college without a lick of culinary training under my belt, you can too.  The trick is not to be discouraged if it doesn’t come out right the first time. You can only perfect the harder recipes by making them. We learn more from our mistakes, right? That is particularly true of risotto. And this recipe is affordable enough to practice with. Besides, it really isn’t that difficult if you just pay close attention to the risotto as it cooks. One of the only reasons so many chefs fail with this dish on cooking competitions is that risotto is ready when risotto is ready. Undercooked risotto will taste like crunchy raw rice and overcooked risotto will be mush. If you have to wait for the magic of T.V, you’re in trouble. (And, well, they are being judged by Tom Colicchio.)

You may or may not have picked up that I am involved in the web series community as you read my blog.  I cater on set for many of web series, have them listed on the right of the blog, and I’ve even acted in them.

Well, last week I had a table read for the first draft of our own web series. (More on that later.) Since our web series is a food show (like a food movie: Ratatouille or Like Water for Chocolate, for example), I wanted to cook something nice for everyone coming to help us out without breaking the bank. So, how to feed 14 hungry actors and directors for under five dollars a head? Risotto! Specifically, Chicken Pesto Risotto. Rice is cheap (even arborio rice if you know where to look), chicken is cheap, and so is pesto if you substitute almonds for pine nuts. We also served wine, a fresh salad, and croissants.

I had to triple my recipe below to feed 14 people, but as you will most likely not be feeding an army every time, I have included more reasonable ingredient amounts.

Chicken Pesto Risotto

1 ½ cups arborio rice (You do NOT have to use Arborio rice. I prefer it just a bit to regular rice for a risotto, but it is by no means necessary. Just use the shortest grain rice you have.)

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into ½” cubes

½ cup dry white wine

4 cups heated chicken broth (Give or take. Risotto takes However much or little broth as it takes to stay moist until it the rice is tender.)

1 onion

12 medium mushrooms

2 cloves of garlic

¼ cup butter

¼ cup cream

¼ cup parmesan, grated

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

Pesto sauce (below)

  1. Chop the onion and mushrooms. Mince the garlic. (For good instructions on chopping techniques, go here.)
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan or pot.  Add chicken and cook through about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan.
  3. In the same pan. melt 1 Tablespoon of butter and sauté the onion over medium heat until golden.
  4. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
  5. Add rice and cook with onions, mushrooms and garlic until translucent. (This is always the term used when making a rice dish, “translucent.” What the hell does that mean? Well, it means, that as the rice absorbs the oil and juice of the onion, it will become less white and almost seem clear in color. Then the rice is “translucent.”)
  6. Add wine and cook until absorbed.
  7. Stir in 1 cup of chicken broth (It is important that the broth is heated in the microwave, especially in the beginning, to keep the cooking process going. Risotto is too tricky to have cold or room temperature broth slow cooking) and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. When the broth has been absorbed, add another cup and continue adding cups as absorbed, for 18 to 20 minutes or until rice is tender. (The rice must be tender at this point, but it won’t be the finished product. The cheese, butter, and cream will add the finishing touches. Never claimed this was a health food blog did I?)
  8. Stir in the cream, cheese (please see the comma there cream AND cheese; cream cheese would be gross,) and remaining butter. Return diced chicken to the risotto and stir in the pesto sauce to taste.
  9. Salt to taste, and serve immediately topped with any extra parmesan and nuts as garnish.

Pesto Sauce

2 cups basil leaves, stems removed

¾ cups pine nuts (For a Five Dollar Feast, you will probably have to substitute almonds or walnuts, preferably toasted if you can buy them that way. Hint: Trader Joe’s has sliced toasted almonds very cheap.)

½ cup parmesan, grated

½ cup olive oil

2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

salt and pepper to taste

  1. combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree.
  2. Taste, and adjust ingredients to taste.
Accounting: basil $2.29 + parmesan $2.29 + almonds $1.99 + Arborio Rice $6.98 + cream $2.99 + mushrooms $1.99 + wine (3 bottles @ $1.99) $5.97 + onion $.33 + chicken $5.79 + chicken broth (@$1.99 each) $5.97 + 2 boxes of croissants $3.98 + salad (2 packages at $1.99) $3.98 = $44.55
÷ 14 people
Comes to $3.18 per person!
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