I love risotto, as will be evident to any regular reader of these pages. I make a risotto at least once a week, ingredients to a large extent depending on the season. One of the great things about risotto is that it doesn’t have a season – you can make it with pretty much anything and particularly any vegetable in season. You can make a fresh-tasting summer risotto with, say, asparagus but a deeply flavourful and comforting risotto in the winter with things like butternut squash. A family favourite – which I also make for vegetarian friends – is Mushroom & Chestnut Risotto.
The risotto is all the better when you have a good homemade stock to add depth – as I did tonight. I freeze my stock in cubes, ready to add a few to a gravy or sauce, but also packs of about 300ml to make risotto. Yes, I even plan to make risotto! I used chicken stock but if you want this to be a vegetarian dish, use vegetable stock.
I’ve been making courgette risotto quite a bit of late, dicing courgettes and frying them with shallot as a base. That was the plan tonight, but then I remembered I’d bought some tenderstem broccoli today so decided to add that too. Then on the ‘green’ theme, I thought I’d add a few peas. The ‘green’ theme took me back to Venice, more particularly the beautiful and tranquil island of Torcello, where in 2015 I had a wonderful spring risotto – Risotto Primavera – at Locanda Cipriani. My risotto tonight was very green. It isn’t, in all honesty, a true winter risotto – not with courgettes and peas, although the tenderstem broccoli is a little more wintery. But nowadays seasons are less evident – or certainly in the supermarket – than they used to be. The point is, I took some veg I had and made a gorgeous risotto. Bright green and fresh looking, but a creamy, deep warmth that felt good on a winter’s night.
This is how I made mine, but ring the changes with what vegetables you have to hand that go together well. Remember that in general, if you want to follow the Italian example, you go for fewer rather than more ingredients. Risotto isn’t a dish where you throw in the metaphorical kitchen sink – or everything lurking in the bottom of your fridge. Choose just two or three ingredients. Keep it beautifully simple.
A Winter Risotto – Serves 1
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 courgette, diced (about 1-1.5cm dices)
- 3 or 4 stems of tenderstem broccoli
- a small handful of frozen peas
- ½ cup risotto rice
- 300ml chicken or vegetable stock, hot
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- knob butter (and ½ tablespoon)
- a good grating of Parmesan
Put the shallot with the oil in a large pan. Fry gently for a couple of minutes and then add the diced courgette. Chop the stems off of the tenderstem broccoli into lengths about the same size as the dices of courgette. Add to the pan and reserve the tops.
Put a small handful of frozen peas in a bowl, add a little salt and pour over boiling water (I always prepare peas for risotto or a pasta sauce like this – they don’t need real cooking; just to get started). Drain the peas after a couple of minutes.
When all the vegetables in the pan are nicely softening and slightly golden brown, add the rice. Stir well to coat each grain of rice and fry gently for just a couple of minutes. Then start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful.
It’s important to do this slowly and to keep stirring. This breaks down the starch in the rice and helps produce the nice classic creamy effect of a good risotto. For me this is one of the best parts of making a risotto – the necessity to slow down and relax and just enjoy the process. I can never understand people who advocate cooking a risotto in an oven or slow cooker – that, in my book, isn’t a risotto, even if it’s a nice rice dish.
When the rice is starting to soften (test a few grains on a fork), add the tenderstem broccoli tops with the last of the stock so they cook through but stay green and fresh-tasting. When the rice is tender and almost all absorbed by the stock, tip in the peas. Stir to mix. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and a grating of Parmesan. Put a lid on the pan and leave for a couple of minutes. Then beat the melting butter and cheese into the rice. This stage is called mantecato and is an essential part of producing a creamy risotto.
Spoon on to a serving place. Grate a little more Parmesan over the top and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil to serve.
It was really gorgeous. Lovely flavours. It felt very healthy with all that green! But also wonderfully warming and comforting on a winter’s night.