I was going through the bookshelf and came across some of the long forgotten recipe books. Among these I found the no frills book that my mum passed on to me. It’s a book she bought in 1962 (as is noted in the front of the book – 15 March 1962), simply called Italian Cooking by Nella Whitfield.
It’s really simple, as there are no designer styled pictures of all the dishes adorning the pages of the book. It’s literally page after page of traditional recipes, different versions of different recipes and regional recipes. Here and there is a subtle black filigree design or simple black drawing of ingredients, but that’s it. It might look simple, but there are gems in here for Italian food.
There are so many of the traditional recipes that jumped up at me. The one that tugged at my heart strings though was Risotto. Feared by some to attempt making it, but loved by those who eat it. There is however also a fair share of controversy or debate around the recipe and how it’s made.
So let’s get it out of the way right up front – I’m a stirrer! This will be heresy for those who believe you shake the pan and NEVER consider bringing a spoon close to the pan. Then there are the rest of us, who believe in ‘agitating’ the rice. The stirring releases all the starch from those short grains and leaves you with the creamy end product that means you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Therefore, don’t expect to see a short cut recipe. I know there are those who parboil their Arborio or (heaven forbid) even use long grain rice for their risotto and loads of other tricks. I’ve done my share of risottos with cracked wheat, pearl barley and even other fragrant rices. However, when I make traditional risotto, it’s another story. First of all I believe you should not be in a rush. Make that effort and give the attention to it that it deserves. What better way to show your loved ones how much you love and care, than making this effort. You will be rewarded with a rich, creamy oozing risotto and very satisfied guests.
Sometimes it is really worth it to page past the 30-minutes-and-it’s-on-the-table-recipes and to open up the book to those ones that take a bit longer and might include making things from scratch. You’ll be surprised about the satisfaction you’ll feel when everyone’s enjoying it. And above all, it gives you some time to think a bit, that’s what I find.
For me the risotto starts from the moment of making the stock, to walking through the veggie patch to see what veg is destined for it. Blame it on the romantic in me. But it’s not a must; you can buy stock and obviously veg from your grocer. Just opt for good quality stock. After my walk through the veg patch, I decided to use the mint and flat leaf parsley for my risotto.
As I had the luxury of working at home this week, I grabbed the stock pot and made some chicken stock. The chicken pieces I used to make the stock was transformed into a chicken noodle dish with pak choy, chilli and mange touts. If you want the stock recipe: see my other recipe section.
So open that bottle of good red wine, get all the ingredients ready and take your place at the stove with wooden spoon (and glass) in hand.
Serves 4 (6 for a starter)
Basic risotto – this is the part that you have to get right, you can try all kinds of other flavourings as well
1 onion (finely chopped)
3 garlic cloves (crushed)
30/45ml Olive oil (to sauté)
500ml Arborio rice
125ml white wine
1.4 litres of chicken stock (use a good quality stock)
250ml grated Parmesan
Salt (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)
Pea and mint flavouring
300g peas (frozen or fresh)
10g mint (leaves, chopped)
10g flat leaf parsley (leaves, chopped)
30ml hot water (when using fresh peas)
125g blue cheese (crumbled)
Dash of lemon juice
Place your stock in a heavy based pot on the stove; bring to boil and then turn down to the lowest heat so it just stays warm.
Prepare your flavouring for the risotto first, as this can be set aside and just heated through again when you add it to your warm risotto.
Heat the 10g of butter over a medium heat in a pot.
Add your peas, parsley and mint. If you’re using fresh peas, add the hot water. If you’re using frozen peas you don’t have to add water.
Cover it and let it cook for around 5 minutes, until your peas are done. The peas must still have a bit of a bite.
Start with your risotto base. Heat olive oil in a thick based, high sided pan and sweat the onions on a medium to low heat.
Add your garlic to this and sauté a bit longer. Be careful to not brown it.
Add your Arborio rice and a pinch of salt to the pan and make sure all grains get covered with the onion and oil mixture.
Let it sauté in the pan on a medium heat for around 2 minutes. This will give the rice a nice nutty taste.
Add your white wine and stir until it’s absorbed and you don’t smell the alcohol anymore.
Turn your pot to a medium to low heat.
Add one ladle of stock, stir the rice and let it get absorbed.
When it’s completely absorbed add your next ladle of stock, stir and let it absorb again.
Stirring your risotto a lot is the key to develop the nice and creamy consistency that you should get with a finished risotto.
Keep on repeating this process until your risotto is done.
Your risotto is done when the rice is cooked, but it still has a bit of a bite (in other words it’s al dente). This should take anything from 30 – 40 minutes, dependent on your heat management.
Remove the risotto from the heat and add your 20g of butter and your grated parmesan cheese. Stir thoroughly until the butter and parmesan have melted into the risotto.
It should have a nice creamy consistency.
Season it to taste.
Now stir through your pea & herb mixture until it heats through.
Don’t let a risotto stand, serve it immediately
When you dish it up, top it off with the crumbled blue cheese. I didn’t crumble the blue cheese too finely. (It’s nice when you mix it through and you eat a fork full of risotto and you bit into a pocket with a salty piece of blue cheese.)
As you place the plates in front of your guests, add a dash of lemon juice, just to add a bit of fresh zing.