The finished risotto topped with blanched baby veg and a little bit of added chopped parsley - an enticing picture
This month I'm going all Italian as summer's hopefully on the way - and cooking risotto. It uses a lot of the baby vegetables that are ready in the tunnel now and also one or two of last year's from the freezer. Risotto's always been one of my favourite dishes so it's a bit of a speciality of mine. It's real comfort food. In winter it can be a filling supper or in summer it makes a lovely light lunch dish with a green salad! It's another easy and flexible dish which you can put virtually any seasonal veg into, so again - experiment with any veg you like when you've tried the basic dish first. Just a little of everything is the key - so nothing overpowers the mix of flavours.
Again it's seasonal - using baby veg that are just appearing in the tunnel - or you may otherwise find in farmer's markets if you don't grow your own. It's very versatile and doesn't use too much of any one vegetable - it's the variety of young crunchy veg that makes it interesting and tasty.
It's easy - although it looks complicated as there's a long list of veg - but it's just chopping and the method is simple. It does take a little time and care to make a good risotto, but it's worth it believe me! I know people say you can make an oven risotto - but in my opinion it's never as good. It's the gentle constant stirring that brings out that wonderful creaminess in the rice, which is such a lovely contrast to the just tender but still slightly crunchy vegetables.
It's also very cheap to make - just a 500gm pack of risotto rice, few bits and pieces of veg and a couple some good Parmesan cheese will feed four people nicely.
It's suitable for vegetarians
If you're making it for two - you will have leftovers - which you can use to make into Arancini - risotto balls wrapped around cheese and fried, or into a risotto cake. I love to have leftover risotto so that I can make these delicious treats!
It's very healthy, with a whole rainbow of different coloured veg in it - and although it's made with white rice - the veg in it means that your gut absorbs the carbohydrates in the rice more slowly so it's still very healthy because it doesn't raise your blood sugar levels quickly. It will also provide at least 4 of your 5-a-day accompanied with a side salad or veg!
Ingredients: (serves 4 - 6 dainty people - not dainty in this house!)
For part-cooked veg first:
(This is added when the risotto base is three-quarters cooked)
30g/1oz butter & 1 tablespoon olive oil
55g/2oz Ruby chard stems cut into dice
55g/2ozs Baby broad beans (from the freezer) with the outer tough skins removed
55g/2ozs Purple mangetout peas or other mangetouts - or alternatively leave them out & add something else!
3 or 4 baby finger sized courgettes cut into small rings or a one larger courgette diced
55g/2ozs Celery sticks sliced finely - young stems from the heart are nicest
55g/2ozs baby carrots - small ones are lovely in this just sliced into discs - but you could use larger ones diced finely or 'julienned' into fine strips
55g/2ozs fresh or frozen peas
For the basic risotto base:
(to which you can add anything - even just a chopped parsley risotto is lovely!)
85g/3ozs onion finely chopped
1 wineglass of dry white wine - don't use anything you wouldn't happily drink. If it tastes like vinegar - it will ruin the risotto! Some supermarkets do very good wine boxes and these are very handy for just taking out one glass at a time for cooking.
1.5 litres/2 & 1/2 pints of organic chicken or veg stock - home made or from stock cubes
500g/1lb 2ozs pack Risotto rice - Organic Arborio is widely available but Carnaroli or Vialo Nano are very nice - harder to find organic
85g/3ozs freshly grated Parmesan cheese - grated from a block - (never the stuff from a packet which tastes like sawdust) - or more or less to taste - I always have a block of Parmesan in the fridge - it's so handy for lots of things and adds instant 'Umami' flavour to just about anything.
Freshly ground black pepper and perhaps some freshly chopped parsley if you like, to finish. In the dish here I also blanched some more baby veg gently in the stock for 2 minutes at the start, putting them aside on a plate to cool. I then used them as a garnish when serving, to make the finished plate look pretty. The baby courgettes looked especially nice with the flowers still attached.
You'll need a large heavy based saucepan for cooking the risotto - and a medium one for keeping the stock gently simmering as you gradually add it into the risotto. I find a straight ended wooden or other spatula is best for stirring the risotto rather than a spoon, as it's better at preventing it sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. A large ladle is also handy - but you can always use a mug for adding the stock.
1. Prepare all your vegetables first.
2. Melt the 1oz of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium heavy based saucepan, add the vegetables and stir for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat. Then cover and cook gently for a further 4-5 minutes. They should still be 'al dente' - in other words with a little bit of bite - not mushy! Remove from pan and set aside on a plate to add later at stage 7*.
3. Put the stock into that pan then and bring it to a simmer - just barely a murmur or it will reduce too quickly.
4. Melt the other 1ozs butter in the larger heavy based saucepan, add the chopped onion, cook until translucent, then add the rice and stir round on the heat until it's hot, shining and also translucent.
5. Add the glass of wine and boil off the alcohol until the wine's almost absorbed.
6. Now you can start adding the hot stock a ladle or two at a time every so often, stirring gently, keeping it bubbling and waiting until that ladle full is almost absorbed before adding the next ladle. Italians say that risotto should sigh with relief each time you add some more stock. Keep on adding the stock in this way until the rice is soft, plump and fluffy but still 'al dente'. This will take about 15 - 20 minutes*. You may not use all the stock or you may need just a little more - it can vary depending on the type of rice. You must keep stirring gently to prevent it sticking.
7.*After about 15 minutes of cooking - add the cooked vegetables that you've set aside back into the risotto and season with the freshly ground black pepper.
8. Cook for another five minutes - keep tasting a bite of rice every so often to see if it's done. If you think it needs a bit more cooking - then add a little more stock and cook for a further couple of minutes, testing frequently.
9. Take it off the heat when you finally think it's done - gently stir in a handful or two of Parmesan and some chopped parsley if you like, cover it and leave it to sit for about 3 minutes.
10. Serve on warmed plates - with the garnish of baby veg if using - and adding a sprinkle of more Parmesan as you wish to each plate. (If you think it's a little bit too stiff at this stage - you can add a little more stock or plain hot water before serving to loosen it up. Risotto should never be stiff, sticky and able to be turned out of a mould like a sandcastle - which is how I was once served it in a well-known Dublin restaurant! It shouldn't be watery like soup either! It should ooze unctuous and glistening onto the plate and relax gently towards the sides!)