One of my favourite things to eat is risotto. When made well it can be light and fresh and bursting with flavour with no sign of the nightmare bowl of stodge that many cooks have come to dread.
Risotto can range from something simple like an original risotto alla milanese, which makes a great accompaniment to slow cooked deep flavoured dishes such as ossobucco, to more elaborate main dishes packed full of flavour. The basics however, remain the same. The most important of these being the use of the correct rice: Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are generally regarded as the best to achieve a perfect creamy risotto as they can absorb high quantities of liquid during cooking whilst maintaining their shape and are also rich in starch therefore making for a creamy risotto.
Rice was fist introduced to Italy in the Middle Ages by the Arabs. The environment proved to be perfect for growing these shorted grained flatter rice varieties and it was not long before huge profits were being made by selling rice in Genoa, Venice and surrounding areas in the north of Italy. Its popularity grew throughout Italy but mainly amongst the wealthier until exports began to the outside world when they discovered the quality of the Italian product. As the money started to pour in the rice became more widely accessible to all levels of society.
It was in Milan that this dish became perfected with slow cooking principles of combining the rice with spices (especially saffron), stock, onions, butter, wine and parmesan to develop a full flavour, thus creating the Risotto alla Milanese.
Today the dish is still served extensively, almost unchanged, in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. Ingredients as varied as prawns, scallops, lobster, truffles, mushrooms, asparagus, pumpkin and almost anything else can be used in this classic dish but most of all its fun to open the fridge and see what flavour invention you can come up with.
Id like to share with you one of my favourite risottos:
The Luscious Lemon and Prawn risotto.
4-5 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
375g Carnaroli or Arborio rice
300ml Dry white wine
1 litre Vegetable Stock (keep it hot)
2 unwaxed Lemons, zest grated and juice reserved
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
16 raw, peeled King Prawns (deveined)
325g Small cooked Shrimp
Knob of Butter
Salt and Pepper
Heat half of the oil in a medium size saucepan over a moderate heat. Add the onion and gently cook for 5 minutes or until it has softened and starting to appear translucent, be careful not to brown the onion. At this point add the garlic and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring continuously so that the garlic doesn’t burn. incorporate the rice into the onion and garlic mixture at this point, cook for 2 minutes making sure that all the grains are coated in the oil and are glossy in appearance (this initial cooking stage helps to release starch into the risotto.)
Pour in the wine next and allow it to simmer for about 1 minute or until all the liquid has evaporated. Add 2 ladles of stock then bring to a simmer and stir until all of the stock has been absorbed.
Continue to add the stock in this way, stirring continuously to release the starch in the rice and ensure the liquid is absorbed evenly. Wait until all liquid has absorbed before adding extra stock until the rice is cooked but still retains a little bite. It should take 15-20 minutes in total and may not require all the stock so its always a good idea to keep trying the rice during the cooking process. 2 mins before the end of cooking add the small cooked shrimp, these do not need to be cooked but heated through thoroughly.
Once the rice is cooked remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon zest, 3/4 of the lemon juice, the parsley, the parmesan along with a knob of butter stir this for about 30 seconds until incorporated and creamy. Season to taste with the salt and pepper and then keep warm whilst cooking the king prawns. Make sure that you maintain the soupy consistency of the risotto, another ladle of stock can be added before serving to loosen the risotto.
Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a high flame. Season the Prawns with salt and pepper and then add to the pan. Fry on each side for about 2 mins until slightly browned, then pour over the remaining lemon juice.
To plate this dish spoon the risotto onto warmed plates or bowls and arrange 4 of the king prawns on top of each portion followed by a drizzle of the cooking liquid from the prawns. I also like to add a little more grated lemon zest on the top too which adds another dimension to the flavours.
All that’s left now is the accompanying glass of wine…….enjoy.