I dare you to suggest to an Italian that other cuisines in the world produce excellent cuisine. Chance has it you’ll experience of a bit of annoyingly frustrating verbal ping pong that would run sorta like this…
¨I really love Thai food ¨
¨ Maybe, but nothing is as good as Italian food ¨
¨ Yes, but Thai food is also delicious, it’s my favourite, you’d like it ¨
¨ There is no better food than Italian food ¨
¨ Have you ever tried Thai food? ¨
¨ I don’t have to try Thai food. I know Italian food is the best in the world ¨
¨ But Thai food is really delicious
¨ Not as delicious as Italian ¨
And, dear Islanders, they would be so utterly right.
Ahhhh, the Italians, with their incomparable love of pasta, exaggerated hand movements and loud speaking voices, this inordinately proud race also generously gave us Chianti, the statue of David and risotto. Oh, and western civilisation.
Risotto is one of those dishes that can strike fear into the heart of the most adventurous, well, maybe not if you are under 5ft, wear black and are someones Nonna. It possesses everything I love most about Italian food, cleverly combining the most basic of ingredients that, with a little bit of patience and a pinch of skill can unveil a supermodel capable of giving you an enormous culinary orgasm. Oh, calm my beating heart……
One of the great glories of Italian cuisine, describing risotto as a rice stew is technically correct, but certainly a firm slap in the face to any self respecting Italian. Risotto´s seductive appeal is that it simultaneously encompasses two seemingly opposite irresistible textures, creamy and al dente. The fact that this dish is time consuming, chockablock full of calories and has the reputation for being difficult can result in some people scrambling for a box of Uncle Ben´s.
But, dear friends, a little secret…….. making risotto is actually easy, it just
requires attention, sort of like a high maintenance diva. Simplicity at its
best……going into the pot initially starting out as Susan Boyle to slowly
kaleidoscope into Jennifer Lopez.
An excellent stock is mandatary as is the stirring for what sometimes may feel like bloody eternity. But, the good thing about all that stirring is that it only requires one hand, so what do you do with your other hand? Why put a glass of wine in it of course.
A little nugget of advice handed down to me over the years by an excellent Italian chef is, first and foremost – basically don’t f#*k with what is pure and holy………time honoured recipes are not to be polluted with substitutes, pasta must never be cut with a knife, cheese and seafood; the two must never meet even over the most casual of plates and for heavens sake, don’t mortally offend the Italians by putting pineapple on a pizza. And finally there’s nothing that can compare to the intensely satisfying plop as it lands on your warmed plate. Yes, warmed – you’ll have the Mafia knocking on your door if you miss this important step as I will have informed them. You can nurse your carpel tunnel after the applause from your guests has finally quietened down.
Bold and Brassy Red Wine, Mushroom and Thyme Risotto
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 medium red onion, chopped
350 grams portobello mushrooms, sliced
half a cup of mixed dried mushrooms
1/4 cup fresh thyme
3 squeezes of lemon
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup red wine
7 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 bloody great big dollop of mascarpone cheese
Heat your olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add your garlic and onion, saute until the onion is translucent. With boiling water, soak the dried mushies in a small bowl for 15minutes.
Add your mushrooms in batches along with salt and pepper and saute until soft and golden. Throw in the thyme and give that lemon a good squeeze. Take out a few of the pan fried mushrooms and reserve for garnish. Strain the dried mushrooms, chop them up finely and add them to the mixture. Don’t throw out the liquid!!
Add the rice to the saucepan and fry for a minute or two until any liquid is absorbed. Now add the red wine to the pan and deglaze, scraping off on burnt or crispy bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring frequently until rice has absorbed all stock.
Repeat this, adding 1 cup of warm stock and letting the rice absorb it in between additions. Don’t forget to use the reserved liquid from the mushrooms. Continue until you have used roughly 6 cups of caldo and when the rice is al dente. Taste the rice, it should have a slight bite to it and not be mushy.
Take the risotto off the heat and stir in the butter and parmesan cheese until they are both melted into the risotto. Plop
the mascarpone cheese in and swirl around until incorporated. To serve, top with fresh thyme, reserved mushrooms and shavings of parmesan.
6 cups chicken caldo
3 and a half tablespoons butter
1 and a half tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated parmasano reggiano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Pop your caldo in a large saucepan over a medium heat and bring to simmer, reduce heat to low and keep warm. Meanwhile, melt 1 and a half tablespoons butter with the oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat.
Fling your shallots in there and saute until tender. Add your rice and stir
frantically for one minute and splash that wine in and stir until evaporated, about 30 seconds………the aroma will make your head spin…..
Add 1 and a half cups of the caldo; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add the remaining caldo 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the caldo to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently until rice is creamy and tender, about 35 minutes. Blend in cheese and remaining two tablespoons butter. Stir in parsley, lemon juice and peel. Finally season your risotto with salt and pepper. Be adventurous and team this elegant and classy risotto with asparagus or salmon.
Assuming that you have leftover risotto, I thought I’d just add this little gem on the end. Always a bonus re invent leftovers and not to throw food away.
4 cups risotto
diced pieces of Taleggio cheese
1 and a half cups breadcrumbs
oil for frying
Firstly, make sure your risotto is cold and that any veg is finely chopped! Line a plastic container with baking paper. Whisk the eggs together, then stir them into the risotto. Add 1 cup breadcrumbs and stir. You want the mixture to be sticky, but not wet, add more breadcrumbs if it is a trifle wet.
Then take a mozzarella ball and a generous spoonful of risotto and form a ball of risotto around the mozzarella. Your arancini will be about the size of golf balls. Place on the baking paper using more paper to separate the layers. Keep doing this until all the risotto has be used up. Pop them into the fridge for at least an hour.
Pour the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs in a bowl and stack paper towels on a tray and keep near the stove. Heat 2 and a half cm of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Roll the arancini in the breadcrumbs, then use a slotted spoon to lower them into the oil. Cook 3 – 4 at a time. Fry them until golden brown then, using a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and drain them on the paper towel.
So, off with you then, go, I can hear Dean Martin’s `Thats Amore´ or is that just in my head……….