I was talking about risotto the other day, when a few friends persuaded me that I should do a ‘risotto masterclass’. I suspect the fact that I have a larger than average kitchen (not difficult in a city where a ‘kitchen’ constitutes having a microwave on a shelf and a hob in many of the flats in the rental sector!) also had something to do with it, but I was flattered enough to go ahead.
We made three flavours of risotto – fennel, lemon and ricotta; pumpkin; and mushroom.
This is not to say that I made three risottos initially. My friends wanted to have a class so I wanted to show them how versatile risotto is with adding flavour, and how simple it is as a method. So, I started with a simple, white risotto, and we took it from there.
A good time was had by all, and I hope that they went away feeling more confident in making risotto, and experimenting with flavour.
Of course, there are more complex ways of building up flavour within the risotto, but adding ingredients at the end is a good way to get started!
I do most of my cooking by eye – especially as I wanted to make this one large enough to split into three, but the recipe that I give below should be enough to serve 2 people with leftovers. Leftover risotto is so versatile, that it really is worth making the extra.
Recipe: White Risotto
150 g risotto rice (risotto rice comes in a number of varieties, or is probably labelled just ‘risotto rice’ in your local supermarket. We used arborio for this one)
1 medium chopped onion,
1 tbsp olive oil
1 glass white wine (or you can use vermouth or another spirit relevant to your flavouring, such as Pernod, etc)
750 ml – 1 l stock (the stock you use can depend on what you are going to add. On this occasion I used vegetable stock)
Knob of butter, or dash of cream or oil
50 g parmesan, freshly grated
Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it is translucent, but not coloured. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is slightly translucent round the edges. Add the thyme at this stage too – the leaves but not the stalks.
Meanwhile, Bring the stock to the boil, and then leave it on a gentle simmer. I always make my own stock and freeze it in roughly 500 ml portions, so I use one of these, then add hot water as I run out. If you want a particularly ‘meaty’ flavour in the risotto, there is no reason why you cannot use all stock. It is important that you are adding warm stock to the rice, so I just leave it on the hob while I am cooking the risotto.
Turn up the heat a little and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to burn off and the rice to absorb the liquid. If you don’t want to have alcohol, this step can also be missed out altogether.
Add your stock, starting with just enough to cover the rice. Allow this to absorb completely before adding more, then add more a ladleful or so at a time. You will need to stir the risotto to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan. Much better chefs than me (well, chefs, in fact) say that the more that you stir it, the creamier it will be, especially at the end stages. This will reduce the amount of butter or cream that you need to add at the end.
Taste the rice as you go. Before it is ready, it has a chalky quality to the grains. It is ready when this chalkiness is lost, but the grains are still a little al dente (especially important if you don’t want claggy leftovers). At this point, stop adding more stock.
Take it off the heat, ad beat in the butter or cream (which must be cold). Add the parmesan and seasoning. You will need quite a lot of pepper.
This is the basic recipe. Then you can flavour it by adding herbs, veg, meat. Whatever you like really.
The flavours I added for the three risottos were as follows:
Fennel, Ricotta and Lemon
I sliced a fennel bulb thinly, lengthways. Then I braised this gently in olive oil, with 2 garlic cloves, also sliced thinly. I added all the vegetables and the oil to the rice, mixed in a little ricotta, and the grated zest of the lemon. I then added the lemon juice, a little at a time to balance out the other flavours. I added the chopped fronds of the fennel as a garnish.
I made a large dice of about 1/4 of an orange fleshed pumpkin, and roasted this, with some unpeeled garlic cloves, and some crumbled dried chillies in some olive oil with sprigs of thyme. This took about 3/4 hour at 180 degrees. I stirred these in at the end of cooking the risotto, and served with taleggio. If you wanted you could halve the above pumpkin, and boil half. Adding it with some of the last stock, which will make the risotto orange, and help build up the flavour. Roast and add the rest as above.
I fried a selection of sliced mushrooms in butter and garlic, with a generous amount of thyme leaves. I stirred them in at the end of cooking the risotto, and stirred through some fresh chopped tarragon. To build up the flavour even more, you could use a mushroom stock, or add the soaking liquor from dried porcinis to the stock as you cook it.
The recipes are simple, as I said, but adding your favourite flavours like this is an easy way to make a risotto recipe your own.