Tales from Rivvy’s kitchen…
Today I’m posting about Risotto. Risotto has a reputation for being a nightmare to cook. I don’t know why. It’s actually incredibly simple. We have it about once a week and I wouldn’t make it that frequently if it was difficult. As with most things in life, it comes down to technique. I’m going to talk through a basic white risotto. It’s quite tasty on its own as a side dish without any added features. After that I’ll talk through various flavour combinations and how to add them to the basic recipe.
300g arborio (risotto) rice
25g butter (salted or unsalted)
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
250ml dry white wine
750ml hot stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)
100g grated parmesan
With risotto it’s best to get everything prepared before you start cooking so that you don’t have to stop stirring. Once everything is weighed out, chopped, minced and dissolved you can start.
In a large, deep frying pan, melt the butter and fry your onions and garlic until they are starting to go soft. Add the rice and fry for a couple of minutes, stirring until it’s all coated in the melted butter.
Keeping the temperature high, add the wine and stir until it’s all absorbed. It won’t take long and the rice will go almost dry.
Add the stock a small amount at a time, stirring continuously. If you don’t feel confident pouring from the jug, use a ladle and add a ladleful of stock at a time. As you add, stir the risotto briskly until the liquid has been absorbed before you add the next ladle of stock. At first it will go fairly dry but once you’re up to about half a litre of liquid, it’ll just go sticky. Practice makes it easier to judge when to add more, but it’s not an exact science.
Once all the liquid has been absorbed (20 – 30 minutes), turn off the heat and stir the parmesan through the rice. The heat from the rice will melt it without causing the fat in the cheese to separate out.
Et voila! Risotto! Yes. It really is that easy. Serve it garnished with a sprinkle of parmesan and/or freshly ground black pepper. It doesn’t look like much in the bowl, but it really is very filling.
There really is no limit to what you can put in risotto. Our current favourite is smoked bacon and edameme (fresh soy beans).
Meats – We’ve recently done chicken and pea and I have in the past made it with smoked salmon, mixed sea food or prawns, unsmoked bacon, turkey or un/smoked fish. It doesn’t really lend itself to red meats as they go chewy, but anything white or fish related is a good bet. If you’re using raw meat, put it in when you fry the onions at the start. If you’re using pre-cooked meat, put it in when you have about 1/4 litre stock left, just to warm it through.
Wine – although it is recommended that you make risotto with a dry white, it’s not an absolute requirement. If you have the remnants of a bottle left over from a dinner, use it. I’ve even used rose. Gives the rice a slightly peculiar hue, but if you’re making smoked salmon or beetroot or anything else coloured, it doesn’t really matter. If you haven’t got exactly 250ml but don’t want to open a new bottle, that’s also fine. As long as you have, between your wine and stock, a litre of liquid, the ratio doesn’t matter. They also don’t have to be kept separate. I tend to chuck whatever wine I have into a large measuring jug and make it up to a litre with stock, rather than put the wine in first. Liqueurs can be used but I would recommend using just a small amount, as the flavours can be quite overwhelming. I’ll discuss those further below.
Stock – as mentioned above – this can be chicken, fish or vegetable. If you’re making something like a mushroom risotto which requires reconstituting dried porcini mushrooms or a tomato risotto with reconstituted sundried tomatoes, you can use this liquid towards your stock for a rich flavour. Just match it to your other flavours. If you’re doing a chicken, turkey or bacon risotto, use chicken stock. If you’re doing a prawn, fish or mixed seafood risotto, use fish stock. If you’re doing a vegetable risotto, use vegetable stock. It’s not rocket science.
For this size of recipe, I tend to use either a few handfuls or about 250ml vegetable (densely packed into a jug). As mentioned above, we frequently use frozen vegetables in ours, such as peas and soy beans. I suspect frozen sweetcorn would be suitable too, although I haven’t tried it. I tend to get a few handfuls out during the preparation phase at the beginning, leaving them to one side in a dish, and then just stir them through with about 1/4 litre stock to go.
Other raw vegetables, such as mushrooms, leeks, tomatoes or squash go in at the initial phase when you’re frying the onion. If you’re going to do squash, such as butternut or pumpkin, make sure you dice them into small cubes so that the chunks have time to cook.
It is possible to make risotto with root vegetables, such as carrot or beetroot, but I would strongly advise you to either cook them first and add them in at a later stage, or grate the raw vegetable finely and add it at the onion stage. Root vegetables frequently go well with root spices, so you can grate them all and add them together – carrot and fresh ginger or beetroot and horseradish. (If you make beetroot and horseradish risotto, serve it garnished with a swirl of sour cream).
Herbs – fresh herbs can be used to flavour risotto but it is recommended that you add them close to the end, maybe one or two ladles of stock before the dish is complete. Depending on your flavours, use fresh basil, tarragon, dill, parsley or coriander, chopped and stirred through the dish.
Contemporary variations – for a contemporary mix, try cooking your risotto with chunks of pear or apple (NOT bramley – it’s too wet and just pulps down) and substituting the parmesan for crumbled blue cheese. Serve sprinkled with chopped walnuts. You could also try a sweet risotto – perhaps parsnip, ginger and apple with a drizzle of honey or stem ginger syrup stirred through at the last minute in place of the cheese. That would be delicious served with pork steaks. It also lends itself to substituting some of the wine for whisky to give it that special, spiced warmth. Perhaps try a courgette risotto with feta, cheshire, caerphilly or other sharp cheese crumbled on top. For a unique and delicate risotto, try making it with crab meat and substituting some of the wine for a small amount of Pernod (perhaps 50ml). Serve this garnished with fresh dill for a delicately flavoured but very special dish. The variations are endless.
Garnish – for a traditional savoury risotto I serve it with just a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Depending on your flavour combination, there’s nothing to stop you serving it with a garnish of nuts or chopped fresh herbs. As mentioned for the beetroot and horseradish dish, it can be served with sour cream. Just ensure it has been taken off the heat before you add the cream. Try serving tomato or bell pepper based risottos with a swirl of pesto sauce. You could also go deconstructed and serve a vegetable risotto with a sprinkling of crispy pancetta or bacon lardons, or even crispy chorizo.
I hope the above is helpful in demystifying risotto. It really is easy and delicious. It’s filling and kids love it – it’s a great way of getting hidden vegetables into their diet if you’re handy with a grater. Any questions, ask below!