When I cook risotto, my favourite five minutes lie in the final stages before plating up. Swirling in a cool pat of butter. Grating in a large lump of parmesan cheese. Folding in each ingredient into the pan, one by one, until they melt and combine together to make a great, oozy risotto. Apart from that moment they don’t. What happened to food harmony?
Butter and parmesan were my go to staples. If a mashed tattie was too dry, add a knob of butter. If the pasta was crap, parmesan would comfort the soul. Joined together, they are the integral ingredients in making a killer risotto. But these two pairings, although helpful, cannot always save a poorly made risotto that is destined for the compost bin.
Meet risotto, my favourite dish and yet, often my nemesis. The tender rice. The sweet onions. The pungent garlic. If foodie poetry was based on any dish it would be risotto. And yet, there can be something of a love/hate relationship between me and the arborio. Sometimes in our relationship things go really well (like Rosé Risotto) or things can go really badly (like Smoked Bacon Risotto).
It’s like any good relationship really. Things will go well if you take your time, let things happen naturally and don’t force it to work. Same goes for risotto. Made carefully and treated well, it will provide you will a plate of food heaven. But if you rush it, you’ll upset it, she will huff with you and you’ll end up in food hell, with a burnt pan and risotto that has little burnt flecks swimming round its soupy texture. That will teach you for your impatience if you couldn’t be bothered to wait for the rice to absorb that last little bit of stock. Patience is a virtue in the kitchen, especially when risotto is involved.
I don’t want to put you off making it though. The beauty of this dish is that it’s so versatile; any vegetable will happily climb into the pot and give you some beautiful flavours. Soft flakes of fish and juicy strips of chicken can give carnivores their protein fix encased in the thickness of a risotto. It’s so simple, cheap and can be made in well under an hour if you take the time to care for each grain, cube of onion and glug of stock. And in that sense, its perfect student fodder that can be pulled off as ‘posh’ because all good Italian restaurants serve it.
So what have I learned in the past 6 years of making this dish? Firstly, slowly sweat your onions over a low to medium heat. Don’t fry them, or they will burn your pan and your end result will be peppered with black flecks of burnt onion. Try using a non stick pan and stick to olive oil, as butter will just burn at this point. Secondly, toast the rice for a few minutes until translucent before you add any liquid. This will ensure a nice texture when finally cooked. Thirdly, add the stock slowly. Don’t throw it all in at once, because if your temperatures too high, the liquid will disappear and your rice will be eons away from being ready. Fourthly, remember that if you do run out of stock, don’t panic. Simple top up with boiling water from the kettle until fully cooked. And of course, don’t skimp on the butter and parmesan. The whole dish won’t work unless you have something to melt into the rice and bind the grains together to create a great oozy risotto. Lastly, a small smattering of freshly chopped basil lifts this dish to a fragrant new level.
So don’t panic about risotto. Love it and it will love you and your tummy.