Risotto is one of those dishes on my list, which when I do get around making it, I'm always so pleased that I did. But somehow whenever I open the pantry door to look at what I've got to work with, my eyes will skim past the bag of arborio rice and pretend I didn't see it. That, or find some excuse not to make it - oh but I don't have white wine. Oh but I don't have stock. Oh but, oh but, oh but...you get the picture.
There's something about making risotto at home that still scares me a teensy bit. And as I thought about why that is (for the purpose of this post), I suddenly realised that it may well be because of all those damn cooking shows I watch!
See, all these celebrity chefs and tv cooks bang on and on, and on about how easy it is to make risotto at home and yet how easy it is to go wrong. And then they all wonder aloud why it is that us plebs shy away from it. Although I've not heard any of them use the word 'pleb' on tv, I have a sneaky feeling some of them think of their viewers that way! Anyway, I digress.
So instead of just showing us how it's made and then leaving it to us, I feel like I've been almost 'warned' off making risotto at home. A little bit like 'he doth protest too much' - know what I mean?
Back to me making risotto.
I have an admission - my first couple risotto attempts were miserable failures. They were either too stodgy or had way too much of the al dente. However it didn't take long before I got the hang of it. (Okay that still doesn't mean it's my first point of call when I'm wanting comfort food, all right)
Here's how I make it work for me:
1) I stir the rice and stock mixture often enough to release the starch which creates the creaminess,
2) have a little more stock on hand than the recipe calls for, or else have hot water on the ready just in case the stock wasn't enough to cook the rice to the right consistency, and
3) taste a few grains of rice at intervals to get an idea on where I'm at with the cooking.
How al dente you like your risotto is up to you. Me, I prefer my rice just cooked through but not soft like if I was to cook say, white jasmine rice.
And right towards the end, I like to stir in a nice big knob of butter and grated parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano if you want to go all fancy with the name of the cheese. The addition of butter at the end makes the dish even creamier and taste richer (in a very good way) and gives the rice a nice shine. The parmesan will give it bite and saltiness.
So seeing that we're coming into cooler days and even colder nights, maybe you could give making risotto at home a go? Once you've made it 2 or 3 times, you'll be an old hand at it and be able to create some of your own flavours. And don't be like me - next time you make a scan of your pantry, let your eyes rest on that bag of arborio rice a tad longer than that packet of same 'ol same 'ol pasta or white rice.
Hot Smoked Salmon and Peas Risotto
Feeds 2-3 people depending on appetites!
1 x large carrot, fine diced
2 stalks celery, fine diced
1 small onion, fine diced
2 cloves garlic, fine diced
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine (I used sauvignon blanc, but use whatever you prefer)
4 cups stock, heated until hot (chicken or vegetable stock)
3/4 cup frozen peas, do not thaw*
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, a a little more to sprinkle on top later
A large knob of butter
Smoked salmon, flaked (a piece large enough for the number of people you're feeding)**
Hot water on hand, just in case you need more liquid for cooking the rice
* I like using baby peas - they look prettier instead of these large green balls in my risotto! hehe...
** I buy my salmon from my neighbourhood deli (Plentifull) - they have amazing hot smoked salmon that I love. Also, if you've stored your smoked salmon in the fridge, take it out early so that it's room temperature.
- In a large and deep pan (or wok-style pan), saute the carrot, celery, onion and garlic over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Take care not to burn the mixture, turning the heat down a little if you need to.
- Add the rice to the onion mixture mixing well and saute for a few more minutes (about 5mins) until the rice is well coated with the mixture and starting to cook (rice starts to develop a translucent look). Again, take care not to burn the rice as we don't want browned bits.
- Then add the white wine and stir in. Cook until the alcohol has been cooked off. If you'd turned the heat down lower than medium, turn it back to medium at this stage when you're adding the wine. Stir often.
- Next turn the heat up to medium-hot and add the hot stock one cup*** at a time to the rice mixture and stir it in. You're cooking the rice via absorption method - once the stock from one cup has been almost absorbed fully by the rice, add in another cup and repeat this method until your rice is cooked and at the right consistency. Stir the mixture every now and again to release the starch and to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pan. Again take care not to burn or brown your risotto. To know if your rice is cooked, taste a few grains each time a cup of stock is absorbed - it'll give you a good indication on how far you are from completion.
- When your rice is almost cooked, stir in the frozen peas. I do this at the end so that the heat of the risotto defrosts the peas and heats them through just - I like my peas hot but still with a bite and not mushy or wrinkly.
- Once your rice is cooked, very quickly stir in the butter and grated parmesan. After that, taste your risotto before adding salt since the stock and parmesan may already be salty enough.
- Ladle the hot risotto into your serving bowls/plates and top with your flaked salmon. And if you like, grate a bit more parmesan over and crack pepper before serving.
*** You can use a ladle but I use my measuring cup because I have no patience with adding one small ladle of stock at a time!