I grew up hating risotto. My mum has her strengths in the kitchen but risotto is certainly not one of them. I still have flashbacks of the crunchy-basmati-rice overcooked-chicken-liver risotto she’d make a couple of times a year. As I got older, my interest in cooking piqued and I read about risotto – you are supposed to use “special” rice, not whatever old long grain you find in the cupboard. I believe the first risotto I tried that I enjoyed (sorry Mum) was cooked by a close friend at University, who made a simple yet divine Butternut Pumpkin risotto with Crispy Sage – it is to this day one of my favourite flavours of risotto.
What I love about risotto is the way you can really pack in the flavours; it is a dish that can really send all your senses wild.
Since those days of my Mum’s Chicken Liver Basmati Risotto, I have seen many menus and recipes that suggest using a long grain rice, rather than the traditional arborio or carnaroli but it isn’t until I visited restaurant in Darlinghurst where I tried a truly great Basmati rice risotto. The menu describes the dish as a basmati rice risotto, grilled Yamba prawns, chives and lemon zest. The result was incredible. Al dente, exploding with creamy citrus flavour, and beautiful presentation too. Needless to say, many an Italian chef would be crying into his arborio at the thought of bastardising a risotto with basmati rice, but a wise man once said, “The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity”, and while traditionalists may scoff, Basmati Risotto is now OK in my book.
In true, classic Italian cookery, the risotto should retain a little bite when served, al dente, and that is just how I like it too – but at the end of the day, real cooking isn’t to impress a judge – it’s to feed yourself. Do what you like. If you want soft rice, then make it that way. The pleasure in cooking for yourself is exactly that… no-one can tell you what is right or wrong, the most accurate measure of success is if you enjoy it.
What I love about risotto is the way you can really pack in the flavours, it is a dish that can really send all your senses wild. It’s so versatile too, you can create a wonderful plate of carefully prepared rice in almost any flavour you imagine. I always find it so difficult to settle on a favourite flavour, however. Wild mushroom and truffle is a tried-and-tested classic; I’ll never forget my first Pumpkin & Sage; Pea and Mint is a delightful dish… the list is long and tasty. Tonight, however, I will be making a pea and mint risotto, with pan-roasted ocean trout fillets.
For two people:
First, make your risotto base – this is more or less identical for every risotto you can make.
Sauté off diced onion (about 1/2 an onion per person) in olive oil or butter – I usually add finely chopped garlic too. When tender, pour in your rice – 100g per person should be plenty – and keep stirring, you don’t want it to stick. The rice will begin to turn translucent, then pour in a good splash of wine (half a glass per person) and allow the alcohol to cook out before adding your hot stock (vegetable or chicken, usually). Add a ladle at a time, stirring the rice constantly, only adding the next ladle when the rice is drying out. After roughly fifteen minutes/600ml stock, you should have your base. The rice will be still crunchy, but at this stage, if you want to, you can stop, cool the rice down, and store it in the fridge for up to three days. This is how restaurants make risotto – otherwise it’d take too long every time a customer orders one.
For this pea risotto, I’ve made a pea purée by cooking the peas in butter and a little stock, then pouring into a blender. Be careful not to add too much stock in the blender – it’s much easier to add more liquid than take it away. I add a little mint into the purée and I chiffronade (finely slice) some to stir through at the end.
To finish your risotto, add more hot stock to your rice, as you did before, until it is approaching how you like it to be cooked. I like it al dente, so just before it gets there, I add my flavouring, which today is the pea puree. If your rice isn’t yet tender enough, add a little more stock until you’re happy with it – don’t forget it will keep absorbing the liquid even after you have served. Stir well, then season with grated parmesan and plenty of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Right at the end, just before you plate, stir in a healthy knob of butter and your chopped mint.
Spoon your risotto onto your favourite plate, top with shaved parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, and in this case, medium-rare Ocean Trout. Enjoy. Feel free to lick the plate.