I have a feeling risotto is one of those things pretty much everyone has in the locker, as their kind of go-to recipe for when people, particularly vegetarian people, come over.
It functions as a the kind of Italian-bistro-esque dinner you can easily pull off at home that conveys some aspect of technique, competence and knowledge; “Oh, he’s made a risotto?”, they’ll say. “Always knew his way around the kitchen, that one”, they’ll say. “Bit of a foodie”, the final word mouthed almost silent, as if they were declaring their host an actor, a religious fanatic, or a lottery winner.
As it happens, risotto is actually a breeze, and simply another way to cook rice, but seems complicated cause it’s one of those things people insist needs a trick: that special way to make it in the oven, or parboiling the rice the way restaurants do, or a magical way to do it in 20 minutes.
You need worry yourself with none of that. Three things are important though:
- You must use a fat grained rice like Arborio or Carnaroli.
- You must stand by the stove for the duration, ready to stir, regardless of how needed you may be elsewhere.
- You must take your time.
This is a dinner that mustn’t be rushed. I’m extremely cynical about the methods that insist it can be made in under half an hour. The Sofrito alone should probably sit for that amount of time. Why hurry? If you need to be quick, make something else.
For my money, risotto is something you make when you have an hour to stand at the stove. Put the radio on, let the family come and go, but stand there, and stir, and taste, and let the thing create itself right there in front of you.
We’re very fortunate here in Sweden to get a good long season of wild mushrooms, which we’re just reaching the end of now. Today, I used Trattkantereller or Winter Mushrooms, which are a variety still plentiful this late in the autumn, a bag of which I was fortunate enough to receive from our neighbours who had just returned from a weekend at their country cabin. In the absence of wild mushrooms, use absolutely anything you can get your hands on. This will be delicious either way.
This’ll do four people with salad and you may well have a bit left, which is good.
You will need:
- A medium onion
- A carrot
- A rib of celery
- 3 cloves of garlic
- Plenty of butter
- 275g risotto rice
- A glass/250ml of white wine
- 1lt hot stock (use the best you can get your hands on. I won’t be a fundamentalist about this; if it’s a cube, so be it. Better to make the thing than not.)
- A fair sized bag/punnet of mushrooms
- Some parmesan cheese, or some other hard cheese (we used grana padano, but pecorino or even a good hard salty cheddar like Montgomery’s would do the trick)
- A big handful of flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
Put a large, heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat.
Chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic finely. Really, as finely as you can.
Slice a thick wedge off your butter and put it in the pan to sizzle. When it makes large bubbles and begins to smell deliciously nutty, add the chopped vegetables, lower the heat, and clap on a lid. Leave this to soften, with the odd stir, for at least 20 minutes, and up to about 45 if you keep a close eye. You want them to soften and turn almost gooey without taking on any colour and definitely not burning at all.
Melt another generous slice of butter in the pan and tip in the rice, stirring it in until it’s well coated. keep stirring for a couple of minutes, until the rice takes on a kind of translucency around its edges.
Pour in the wine, and turn the heat up very slightly. Stir the rice constantly until all the liquid is absorbed.
Once the rice has absorbed all the liquid, add a ladleful of hot stock and stir constantly until that too has been absorbed, repeating the process over and over for a good half hour til you’ve used your whole litre of stock. Never stop stirring.
Whilst you’re doing this, put the mushrooms in a dry pan over a high heat. They’ll release lots of liquid. Stir them and turn them til it’s all evaporated, then set them aside.
By the time you’re near the end of your stock, the rice should be most of the way cooked, and have created a thick. sticky almost creamy sauce from all your hard work stirring. This is just as it should be. When the stock is almost gone, take out the odd grain of rice and bite into it. You want all traces of white, dryness to be gone, but for the grains to still retain a little al dente bite, rather than just be a mush.
Stir in the mushrooms, taste for seasoning (you’ll probably need a fairly frightening amount of salt and pepper, especially if you’re using home made stock) and then add another few fat slices of butter, stirring them into the rice as they melt. Finely grate in plenty of cheese, stir, taste and season again, then take off the heat and stir in the parsley.
Spoon the risotto onto plates, grate on a little more cheese, then drizzle with the best olive oil you have and tuck in.
After all that stirring, you’ll have worked up an appetite and, as luck would have it, this is exactly the kind of food to satiate that hunger.