Words and photos by Ren Behan
Knowing how to make a risotto means you’re only ever thirty minutes away from a truly comforting supper. Risotto is a staple in many Italian households, and a firm favourite in ours. It can be served in a variety of guises, but I very often keep it simple by using, as I was taught by family, a base of finely-chopped carrots, onions and celery, and a hot, homemade chicken stock.
There are a few secrets to making a good risotto. First, choosing the best rice – the two types that are most often seen outside of Italy are Arborio and Carnaroli grains.
Next, remember to have all your ingredients readily prepared before you start cooking; vegetables chopped, a good olive oil, hot stock simmering in a separate pan. Preparing risotto correctly takes your attention as you will need to stir the pan every now and again, adding in the stock little-by-little so that the rice releases its natural starchiness, softening as it simmers. A perfect risotto should be quite loose in texture; cook it too long and you might end up with a risotto that is too sticky. See it as a ritual and pay attention to that ‘just perfect’ texture and consistency – your patience will be well rewarded.
The stock makes a difference – if you are wanting to make a fish risotto, perhaps using poached haddock flakes or a few prawns, for example, you could use fish stock for added flavour. Any vegetables that you want to add to a risotto, such as peas or asparagus, can be pre-blanched and stirred through right at the end.
As autumn approaches, look out for some wild mushrooms at the market and try this griddled mushroom risotto. Or, as I did this week, try roasting some vegetables separately and simply tumble them over your finished risotto with an extra lug of olive oil and a grating of fresh Parmesan.
If you are making a white risotto (risotto bianco) you can leave out the carrots in your base and add a little garlic once the onions and celery have softened.
A basic risotto recipe
- 1.25 litres of fresh, hot stock
- 250ml white wine (optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium, sweet onion, peeled
- 1 stick celery
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 400g Arborio or Carnaroli risotto rice
- A knob of unsalted butter
- 50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt and fresh black pepper
In a medium sized pan, bring your fresh stock to a gentle boil.
Next, prepare your ‘soffritto’ by finely chopping the onion, celery and carrots. Add a good drizzle of olive oil into a pan (I use a 24cm, heavy-based casserole pan) and tip in the onions, celery and carrots. Cook on a gentle heat for around ten minutes, until the vegetables have softened, whilst avoiding anything sticking or burning in the pan.
Next, stir in the rice, making sure the grains are coated with the oil in the pan, add the wine (if using) until it bubbles and evaporates, followed by a ladleful of simmering stock. It will bubble and evaporate quite quickly, so add a ladleful more and stir. You are looking for each ladleful of stock to be absorbed before adding the next. Don’t be tempted to stir the rice too much; you want the grains to cook but not break up.
The rice should take around fifteen minutes to cook, with regular additions of stock and a little stir. The grains should still have a little bite to them and the dish itself will have become naturally creamy.
Towards the end, add a little sprinkle of salt and a twist of pepper to season, take the pan off the heat, and stir in some butter and the freshly grated Parmesan. If the risotto at this stage looks a little sticky, add any remaining stock and serve as soon as possible.
For more comforting recipes, take a look at the new recipes from Jamie’s latest book Comfort Food.