Risottos and braises are not the same, since a risotto is not covered at any point in the cooking process. But they are related in that the rice is fried with butter at the beginning, then cooked slowly in liquid. Well, they're close enough anyway to make us feel that this deliciously warm, chewy and gooey caramel risotto is in keeping with our theme this week.
This is a simple but heavenly dish, requiring just a little milk, some sugar and rice, and a lot of stirring. Together they turn out a rich, not-too-sweet dessert with lightly chewy grains of rice enmeshed in a gooey, burnt-sweet milk caramel.
It's different from a rice pudding in that it is closer to a traditional risotto, with distinctly al dente grains of rice, cooked to a pleasing chewiness in a sauce made, in part, through the abrasion of starch caused by stirring the rice.
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup cream
Melt butter in a large heavy stockpot and cook the rice over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring until translucent and golden. Add the salt and 4 cups of whole milk and bring to a boil, then lower to a steady simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the grains of rice are beginning to soften and swell.
Meanwhile, heat the sugar and water in a pot with tall sides. A 1-quart saucepan will do, but be very careful. Put the cream in a smaller saucepan over low heat and warm. Heat the sugar and water over high heat until boiling. Boil without stirring until it turns a dark amber color. When the color begins to turn stir with a dry, clean spoon to keep the caramelization even. Hold on and let it get fairly dark; even if it burns a little that will be better than leaving it too light. When the caramel is dark enough, pull the pan off the heat and carefully add the cream, a little at a time. This is one of the most fierce reactions in the kitchen - be careful as it will bubble up and spatter. Stir in the cream.
Add the caramel mixture to the rice, stirring well. Stir this mixture over medium-low heat, keeping it to a steady simmer, for about 20 minutes. It's necessary to stir quite steadily to keep it from burning and to keep the rice moving.
The liquid will reduce and get darker, and the rice will swell more. It will look soupy. Keep cooking it down until it's the thickness you prefer - remembering, however, that it will firm up considerably in the fridge. Serve with whipped cream.