Ingredients, to feed two people:
Light olive oil
1 cup of risotto rice (Arborio is the most commonly sold)
Good glug of white wine or vermouth (optional)
1 and half pints of stock
Some notes on the ingredients:
This is for a basic risotto, and many of the ingredients vary according to the kind of risotto being made. For instance, some risottos will use red wine instead of white, and use a lot more of it in place of some of the stock. Fish and seafood risottos don’t (traditionally) have any cheese or butter. The exact kind of rice varies in Italy but it doesn’t really matter in terms of making something good to eat as long as it’s a risotto type; long grain rice is not suitable as it doesn’t have enough starch to make the ‘sauce’, and pudding rice would dissolve into mush so that’s no good either.
It’s worth spending the extra on proper risotto rice as the whole meal is very cheap, when you consider that it stretches out a bowl of rice into an entire meal without much else required. In fact, one thing to beware of is overloading the dish with too many ingredients. The point of a risotto is well flavoured rice with perhaps a few nice things added – which brings us to the stock. You can make a risotto with stock from a stock cube but a homemade stock is far superior. Proper risotto alla Milenese uses beef stock but, for our purposes, making a general purpose risotto to which a variety of ingredients can be added, a chicken stock is best (unless you’re vegetarian, of course, in which case there are some pretty decent vegetarian pre-made stocks, or else Marigold bouillon powder) and it happens to be something I make regularly.
1. Cut the onion and slowly sauté it in a big saucepan, in enough olive oil to stop it burning, until it’s soft but not browned.
2. Heat your stock in another pan – you will need to add this hot to the rice in a few moments.
3. Add a good pat of butter to the onions, then add the rice and stir it round. The idea, here, is to coat the rice in the butter, onion and oil mixture and get the grains very lightly toasted but – again – not browned. Keep the heat low.
4. Add the wine or vermouth, if using, and stir round. Increase the heat to boil off the alcohol and then start adding the stock a few spoonfuls at a time (obviously, if not using the alcohol, just start adding the stock and then increase the heat) and a scant teaspoon of salt.
5. Use a wooden spoon to bash the rice round the pan, adding another couple of spoonfuls of stock as each previous batch evaporates. The point of this is to knock some of the starch out of the rice into the liquid, which makes a sauce, so don’t skip it. Once half the liquid has been added, you can add the rest all at once. Put some more water in the stock pan to re-heat, in case it’s needed.
6. Turn down the heat and let it simmer, stirring and checking every now and again and adding the hot water if the risotto looks in danger of boiling dry. After about 20 – 30 minutes, the rice should be soft enough to eat but still with enough texture to give it bite and there should still be enough liquid for there to be a bit of a sauce around the grains.
7. To serve, turn off the heat, add another pat of butter, check the seasoning and sprinkle with some chopped parsley (flat leaf for preference) and some grated or shaved parmesan. Buon appetito!
Apologies if going into such detail has made this look tricky – it’s really easy and is one of my standbys for when I can’t be bothered doing anything more involved.
If you have roasted a chicken and made the stock from the carcase, you may have some chicken meat left over. Add no more than a handful of this, chopped up into small pieces near the end of cooking.
A few frozen peas can be added near the end. Likewise, when asparagus is in season and cheap (around June), you can add the cooked and chopped vegetable just before serving – this goes particularly well with chicken.
Another great addition is mushroom, chopped and fried. Again, this goes well with chicken (but don’t’ try them all together or you’ll end up with no better than a “Mr Creosote” bucket of ingredients!).
To make a courgette risotto, chop a single courgette into small dice and add it just before adding the liquids.
Adding a little saffron with the stock gives a subtle flavour and a lovely yellow colour. Because saffron is quite subtle, it is nice to do this when making the basic risotto as a side dish to grilled meat or vegetables.
A real treat is to use truffle oil. This is wickedly expensive to buy but you only use a few drops in each bowl of risotto just before serving – if you are using this, it would be profligate to add any other extra ingredients, other than those in the basic recipe (a small handful of fried wild mushrooms would go well, though).