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Issue 62 - Rocking Risotto

Scotland Magazine Issue 62
April 2012

 

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Rocking Risotto

Sue Lawrence gives us some simple tips

Of all the travesties served up in the guise of ‘Italian food’, surely the worst is risotto.

We have almost overcome our desire to sling cans of baked beans and diced potatoes (yes, really) into spaghetti bolognese, but the very word risotto seems to bring out the worst in us.

For a start, we often use pudding rice, which results in a stodgy savoury rice pud.

We sometimes tip in all the stock at once because we cannot be bothered standing by the stove stirring lovingly while everyone else finishes off the canapés next door, thus resulting in a reasonably edible yet inauthentic dish.

We have also been known to shove the lot into the oven and call it Oven Risotto, which might taste fine, but it is not risotto any Italian would recognise. And recently chefs have thought it fun to shape their risotto into little mounds, forcing its loose creaminess into the confines of a ring mould then serving it up beside a slab of meat or fish, whereas in Italy it is usually served as a course on its own, with the exception of saffron risotto with Ossobuco.

Each stage is crucial to the final dish and even cooking the onions (very finely chopped) for no more than two minutes is important.

Once the rice is stirred in, wine is added, not only for flavour but in order to help keep the rice firm.

Then, the stock is added a ladle at a time, and must cover the rice.

The salt is added near the start of the stock-ladling so that it has time to penetrate inside the rice. The heat must be constantly medium, never too high nor low Once you understand what to look for in an “al dente” rice grain - firmness yet tenderness - you can move onto the all-essential “mantecatura”, the final touch, adding grated parmesan and stirring until creamy before adding a knob of butter and stirring again.

The order - cheese first then butter - is crucial .

If you add the butter first, the rice will be too hot to absorb the butter and it will sink to the base of the pan without being well incorporated - as it does when the rice is slightly less hot - to make it into the gloriously voluptuous dish that it is to become.

It is so good in fact, it is incredibly difficult to stop scoffing the lot straight from the pan.

Broad Bean and blue cheese risotto

50g / 1¾ oz butter
1 onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb (or half large one), trimmed, finely chopped
250g / 9 oz risotto rice
half glass dry white wine
I litre/ 1.75 pints vegetable / chicken stock, hot
350g / 12 oz young, podded broad beans
50g / 2 oz blue cheese, chopped or crumbled
2 tbsp freshly chopped mixed herbs (mint/ dill/ marjoram)

Heat the butter, gently fry the onion, garlic and fennel for about 10 minutes, stirring, until golden. Add the rice and stir well to coat –for about one minute.

Add the wine and stir until complete absorbed. Now start adding hot stock, ladle by ladle, only adding the next when it is all absorbed.

After the first five minutes or so, add the broad beans and continue to cook over a low heat, until the rice is tender but with some bite to it (up to 20 minutes); by this stage it will all be nicely creamy. Season with pepper (there might be enough salt in the cheese) then add the cheese and most of the herbs. Stir well, cover tightly and leave for five to 10 minutes then stir, check and adjust seasoning then sprinkle over the remaining herbs and serve in warm bowls.

Mushroom risotto

Instead of fresh porcini, use 30 to 40 g dried porcini, soaked in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes. Add 2 tbsp of this soaking liquor to the rice towards the end of cooking, to enhance the flavour.

50g / 2 oz butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g/ 9 oz risotto rice
half glass white wine
1 litre / 1 .75 pints vegetable stock, hot
150g / 5 oz fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in little butter
60g / 2.5 oz freshly grated parmesan and extra knob of butter
chopped parsley

Melt butter, add the onion, Cook for 2 to 3 minutes then add the rice, stir well then add the wine. Stir constantly until all the wine is absorbed.

Gradually add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, making sure you add enough each time to cover the rice. Add salt to taste.

Once the rice has been simmering for 13 minutes, add the mushrooms (sautéed if fresh; soaked if dried) . Cook for a further five minutes or until rice is al dente.

Remove from the heat, stir in the parmesan cheese then, once absorbed, stir in the butter.

Serve in warm bowls, garnished with parsley.

Five steps to a successful risotto

1. A sturdy, heavy-based, deep pan is essential – and stir with a wooden spoon.

2. The type of rice is crucial to the finished dish and only white, hard Italian risotto rice will do:
a. Arborio is a large plump grain that produces a dense consistency but do not overcook, or it can become gummy and stiff.

b. Vialone Nano gives a loose-textured yet voluptuous risotto.

c. Carnaroli is a firm yet tender grain, almost impossible to overcook.

3. It is essential to keep the stock hot and it is added a ladle at a time and only when that has been absorbed should the next be added.

4. You should stir constantly: this helps release the starch as the hot stock envelops each grain.

5. Most Italian experts allow for 18 – 20 minutes of cooking time from adding the first ladle of stock.