Risotto, a dish of rice cooked in broth and served with grated cheese, can trace its origins to Italy. Now popular on tables everywhere, the strains of rice best used are Carnaroli and Arborio. Readily available from your local supermarket, both absorb huge amounts of liquid and either can be used in the recipes below. The basic risotto recipe is risotto bianco. Extremely versatile, it can be used as a base for many variations. Please note the recipes supplied are for large helpings. Discretion is advised for people with weight concerns.
- 75g risotto rice per person
- 1 red onion, peeled and very finely chopped 1
- 100g butter - unsalted is best 2. Alternatively you can use 50g butter and 50g olive oil as a healthy alternative.
- 1 litre of stock - chicken, vegetable or fish stock 3
- 1 large glass of dry white wine, or extra dry white vermouth for the authentic Italian flavour
- 100g parmesan, freshly grated if possible
Heat the stock and keep it quite hot (make sure it doesn't evaporate though).
Melt most of the butter (or the oil and butter mixture) in a large saucepan.
When it has melted, add the finely chopped onion and cook until the onion is very soft (about 5 minutes to 10 minutes, depending on how patient you are). It's extremely important that the onion doesn't go brown.
Now, take the pan off the heat, add the rice and stir vigorously for about a minute - so that each grain of rice is coated with the butter. Turn the heat to medium, and put the pan back on the heat.
Pour in the wine and enough stock to cover the rice - usually about a ladleful if making risotto for four.
From now on, you should be stirring the risotto quite often. This Researcher recommends about once every half a minute.
When almost all of the wine and stock has been absorbed by the rice add another ladleful of stock, and continue stirring. Repeat this until the rice is cooked. This should take about 25 minutes.
The rice is cooked when it is al dente - when the hard centre of the rice has disappeared, but the rice still has an interesting texture. Make sure the last ladleful of stock has been absorbed and remove the pan from the heat.
Add the remaining butter cut into small pieces and stir it into the risotto. This will give the risotto a wonderful creamy consistency.
At this point you can add some more wine or vermouth if you like. Now add the grated parmesan and stir it in.
Serve immediately, and don't be put off if the portion seems quite small, it's very rich and very filling.
There are hundreds of variations on this dish, you can make up your own, but here are a few favourites.
Risotto with Asparagus and Peas
- Use about 100 to 150g of asparagus per person
- 50g of fresh peas per person, podded
- A handful of fresh mint
Remove the tips of the asparagus, and blanch in boiling salted water for two minutes then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Chop up the stalks of the asparagus into three or four pieces and blanch for three minutes, remove and set aside, separately from the tips. Now blanch the peas and mint together for about 2 minutes. Put half the peas with the stalks, and half with the tips. Either chop the stalks and peas very finely by hand or with a food processor, add about a ladleful of stock (if cooking for four) if using a food processor. Cook the risotto bianco as above, but before you add the parmesan, put in the asparagus and mint puree and the fresh peas and asparagus tips, and stir them in. Add the parmesan, stir and serve.
Risotto with Spinach, Fresh Peas and Herbs
- 250g washed spinach per person
- 100g fresh peas per person
- Use twice as much red onion as for risotto bianco
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery per person, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of each of chopped fresh marjoram and basil
- Half tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon of cream per person
Blanch the spinach with the mint, remove the spinach (keep the water). Blanch the peas in the same water, then drain. Roughly blend the spinach, peas and mint together in a food processor. Make the risotto bianco recipe, with some slightly variations: Use twice the amount of onion, and add the chopped celery at the same time as the onion. When the onion is cooked, add the garlic and thyme, stir and cook for a few minutes before adding the rice. Continue as for risotto bianco. Before adding the parmesan, add the spinach and pea mixture. After adding the parmesan, add the remaining herbs and cream, stir and serve immediately. This risotto is quite a lot of effort, but well worth it.
Other good things to try in risotto are wild mushrooms, baked pumpkin, pancetta (Italian bacon), and so forth. Basically, anything goes. Using sweet corn or red and green peppers will give your dish an interesting colour - although both of the above recipes have a wonderful green colour because of the blended asparagus or spinach. If you want to improve the colour for a wild mushroom risotto, put dried porcini mushrooms (also called cepes) in warm water for about an hour, the water will turn a rich brown colour. You can use this water to colour the risotto - although you'll probably want to boil it down to a more concentrated liquid so that your risotto isn't watery. The reconstituted porcini are delicious!