Rachel Allen: ‘This creamy, velvety risotto is comfort food at its best’
In the second week of her January comfort-food series, Rachel Allen has some simple, delicious recipes for one of the world’s most famous rice dishes
Risotto, one of the most famous rice dishes in the world, is, for me, comfort food at its best. I find the slow, methodical process of gradually adding the stock into the rice soothing in itself. As the rice releases its starch from the almost constant stirring, you get a dish that's naturally creamy and velvety.
There are a few different varieties of rice that work well in risotto. Short-grain rice is always used, some types are more starchy than others. The main varieties used are carnaroli, vialone nano and arborio, but as with rice grown all over the world, the altitude and particular climate in which each rice variety is grown plays a huge part in how it cooks and tastes.
I love how the Italians are such purists, and don't like to go off-piste with their recipes. The classic risotto alla Parmigiana, far right, is a perfect example of this. I remember being shown by an Italian lady in Venice how this dish should be served: on a plate that's just at room temperature. As the hot risotto runs to the edge of the plate (the risotto shouldn't be thick - it should spill to the sides of the plate) the plate gradually warms up, and the risotto, eaten from the edges in, is at the perfect temperature all the time.
So now, with the risk of being unconventional, I also want to talk about other types of risotto.
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The baked mushroom risotto, far right, is not classically made in that it is baked and not cooked on the hob, but it is a delicious plate of food, that is just perfect for this time of the year.
And then for this risotto recipe, right, I'm totally going against the grain, so to speak, and using barley in what is a most comforting and hearty bite of food, with roasted squash and spicy chorizo. Delicious.
Use the best stock or broth that you can for your risotto. If you eat meat, then it's hard to beat a chicken or turkey stock for the flavour and goodness. Otherwise, make a vegetable broth using celery, onions, fennel, carrots and a leek, with a couple of cloves of garlic.
Rachel's top tip
Ensure you don't overcook the rice for your risotto; it should have the barest bite in the centre for the best result. Remember that different varieties of rice can cook at different speeds, so don't mix them.
Risotto alla Parmigiana
You will need:
1.5L chicken stock
15g butter, plus 50g butter, cubed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g risotto rice
150ml white wine
75g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 Put the chicken stock into a pot and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, and keep it at a gentle simmer.
2 Meanwhile, melt the 15g of butter in a large saucepan with the extra-virgin olive oil, add the finely chopped onion and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover the pan, and sweat the onions gently until they are soft - this should take about 8-10 minutes.
3 Add the risotto rice and stir it around for a minute on the heat so that each grain of rice is coated in the butter and oil.
4 Then pour in the white wine and let it bubble up and evaporate, which will take a few minutes on a medium heat, uncovered.
5 Add a ladleful (about 150ml) of the simmering chicken stock to the risotto, and stir it continuously over a low-to-medium heat.
6 As soon as the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Continue to cook, stirring almost continuously over a medium heat, repeating the process with the stock until the rice is cooked, and is loose and creamy in consistency, which should take about 20 minutes.
7 When you're happy with the texture of the risotto (you might want to add a little more stock), stir in the 50g of cubed butter and the freshly grated Parmesan cheese and check the seasoning, adding more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary. Serve hot.
Butternut squash and barley risotto with chorizo
You will need:
1 small butternut squash (about 425g when prepared), peeled, deseeded and chopped into 1cm-2cm cubes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
200g chorizo, cut into ½cm slices
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g pearl barley
1L chicken stock
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7. Toss the butternut squash cubes in the extra-virgin olive oil, then put them on a baking tray and roast them in the oven for 20 minutes, or until they are tender.
2 Put the chorizo slices in a dry saucepan on a low heat, and cook them really slowly until the fat renders out - if the pan is too hot, the chorizo will brown before the fat has rendered.
Transfer the chorizo slices to a plate, leaving all the oil behind, then add the finely chopped onion to the saucepan and season it with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the saucepan and cook gently, still on a low heat, for 6-8 minutes, until the onion has softened.
4 Now return the chorizo slices to the saucepan, add the pearl barley, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat the pearl barley in all the delicious oils.
5 Add the chicken stock to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, over a low heat, stirring regularly, for 30 minutes, or until the pearl barley is just tender. At this point, the stock should all have been absorbed by the barley. Add another drizzle of stock if the risotto is looking dry in any way.
6 Add the roasted butternut squash cubes and the chopped fresh rosemary, and heat through. Season the risotto to taste with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and serve.
Baked mushroom risotto
You will need:
25g dried porcini mushrooms
200ml boiling water
400ml chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g risotto rice
100ml white wine
250g button or flat mushrooms, quartered or sliced
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra, to serve
25g butter, soft, cut in cubes
1-2 tablespoons fresh marjoram or parsley, chopped
A good squeeze of lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons mascarpone
1 In a heatproof bowl, combine the porcini mushrooms and the boiling water. Leave them to soak for 20 minutes, until they are soft.
2 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. Put the chicken stock or the vegetable stock, whichever you're using, in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, and bring to just under a simmer.
3 In a large saucepan or casserole pot with a lid, add 25g of the butter, and place the pot on a medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover the pot and cook the vegetables for 6-8 minutes until they are soft.
4 As the onion is cooking, drain the porcini, but reserve the soaking liquid. Roughly chop the porcini and set them aside, then strain the soaking liquid (it may contain a little bit of grit) and add it to the simmering stock. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
5 Add the chopped porcini to the saucepan containing the butter, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, for 1-2 minutes. Next, stir in the rice and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly but gently. Add in the white wine, stir, and cook for 2-3 minutes until it has evaporated. Now pour in the pot of simmering stock, stir to combine everything, place a lid on top and put the pot in the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes until the rice is just al dente (has a bite).
6 While the risotto is in the oven, place a frying pan on a medium heat, add the remaining 25g of butter and when it is hot, add the quartered or sliced button or flat mushrooms, whichever you are using. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are wilted and lightly golden. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
7 Remove the risotto from the oven, add the freshly grated Parmesan and the cubes of soft butter, then use a wooden spoon to beat everything together. Stir in the fried button or flat mushrooms, whichever you are using, the chopped fresh marjoram or parsley, whichever you're using, the lemon juice and the mascarpone. Serve immediately with the extra grated Parmesan scattered on top.
In season: root vegetables
Root vegtables Some seasonal roasted root vegetables are delicious added into a risotto. Think celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and beetroot...
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