It’s September, which means that the kids are back at school where they pick up new and interesting germs to bring home to me. This week, it’s been a bad sinus cold. Thanks for sharing, kids!
As soon as anyone in this house in unwell, chicken stock is made. I keep the carcasses in the freezer from our weekly roast chickens, and throw them in the pressure cooker – which, I have just discovered, makes amazingly rich stock in an hour. If I’m really organised, I will make a big batch of stock to keep in smaller portions in the freezer. Generally I’m not at all organised, which is why the pressure cooker has been such a lifesaver.
Usually the stock is made into soup, either with rice or ramen noodles. It’s a cure-all for what ails you. Sometimes the stock is used for risotto, which is one of my ultimate comfort foods. It does sound a little bit pretentious when you hear one of my small children requesting risotto, as it’s standard gastropub fare these days. (“May I have some risotto, mummy? Perhaps with a gently poached duck egg and seasonal asparagus on top, with shavings of pecorino?”) When you think about it though, risotto is just reduced chicken and rice soup – and that’s why it’s so comforting when you’re feeling poorly.
I like to keep my risottos basic – good stock, a bit of onion, with butter and cheese stirred in at the end (if my stomach can deal with that.) Even when I’m not unwell, I don’t like my risotto to be too busy. One, maybe two extra ingredients are grand. Anything else is going into paella or biryani territory.
I have a wonderfully huge coffee table style cookbook by Giorgio Locatelli called “Made in Italy”. It’s a fantastic collection of recipes and food memories, with dozens of dishes you can make every day. This is where I learned some tips about making risotto, and I’ve stuck to them for the past few years.
My preference is to use canaroli rice instead of arborio. I find it holds its shape a bit better and doesn’t go as starchy and mushy. I don’t add garlic, only because my stock tends to be full of garlic already. I dice the onion very finely (about the same size as the rice) or the texture of the risotto gets a bit chunky for me. If I add any extras, they generally go in near the end. There aren’t a lot of ingredients that are happily cooked for almost 20 minutes without going dry or mushy.
If you have leftover risotto and aren’t counting calories, arancini is a very lovely thing to make. It’s simply balls of leftover risotto dipped in egg and breadcrumbs (Japanese panko works very well for this) and deep fried. Oh yes. You can also stuff the rice balls with meat sauce or cheese, just in case it wasn’t calorie-intense enough for you. If you’re being a bit more health-conscious, you can press the risotto into a baking dish and bake until the top goes golden and crunchy, then serve in slices.
Like any recipe, it’s all down to personal taste; what I think is a great risotto, you might think is a big pile of toddler food. Have a play with it, figure out what you like, and don’t get too bogged down with what the “experts” have to say.
250g canaroli rice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
4-6 cups of chicken stock (some rice is “thirstier” than others, so this quantity can really vary)
1 glassful of white wine
2-3 tbsp of cold butter, diced
Handful of grated parmesan or pecorino
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the stock in a pan and leave it to simmer.
In a large, shallow saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry for 1-2 minutes, until they soften.
Add the rice and stir for another 1-2 minutes, until it’s coated with oil and starts to become a little bit translucent around the edges.
Add the glass of wine and stir until most of it is absorbed. Set a timer for 17 minutes (I know it sounds ridiculous but that precise time seems to work for me.) Then add the stock, one ladleful at a time, and stir until each ladleful is absorbed.
After 17 minutes, the rice should be cooked but still have a bit of a “bite” to it. If you want it softer, then add more stock and cook it for another 2-3 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.
Add the cold, cubed butter and grated cheese, and stir in quickly with a bit of force until it’s all combined. I like it a bit runny (sort of like lava.) Season to taste.