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.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, why not try one of these wonderful variations from Gennaro:
For more comforting recipes, take a look at the new recipes from Jamie’s latest book Comfort Food.
Words and photos by Ren Behan