Risotto is a precious dish. It embodies everything I love about Italian food in one mouthful; hearty, honest and deceptively simple, elegant and delicious. I approve of the fact that whilst the outcome may appear humble it takes a little dedication and patience to create; and the end result (as is the case of course with most things) is directly proportionate to the effort put in.
This often rustic looking dish has attained legendary status in many restaurants around the world, and the ability to create a really good one (along with a decent omelette) is the bench mark of any decent chef. It has a reputation for being difficult to make and there are as many different recipes in existence as there are combinations of ingredients that can be added to make the perfect one.
Favourites in our house include Saffron and Pea, Leek and Taleggio, White Onion and Truffle, Spinach and Pecorino, Gorgonzola Dolce and Crispy Prosciutto. Thepotential list, quite frankly, is endless. But I am a purist at heart and love simple combinations of ingredients indigenous to the home country of the dish (though granted saffron may be a little left of field…literally).
Risotto is not hard to make. Nor does it take hours to make. It is in fact a very simple and fairly inexpensive dish that is enormously accommodating to its surroundings. Perfectly at home among salads and veggies at lunch, as a warming weekday dinner with dressed leaves, as the main course at an elegant party or curled up on the sofa straight from the pot…with the wooden spoon…on a miserable rainy evening. Did I forget to mention that it makes the most versatile leftovers? When rolled into balls with some hidden mozzarella in the centre, covered with breadcrumbs and baked or deep fried they become the most delectable of bite sized canapes – or serve them with salad and an unctuous sauce a day or so later.
ROBBIOLA, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & FAVA BEAN RISOTTO
2 cups of risotto rice
6 cups of piping hot, tasty vegetable or chicken stock
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
200 grams of Robbiola, scooped out from skin (about 2/3 cup)
1 cup of peeled baby fava (or broad) beans
300g of butternut squash, cut into rough medium dice
1 glass good dry white wine
large knob of butter
About half a cup good olive oil
1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
Plenty of fresh Marjoram or Oregano (leaves from three or four stalks)
Roast the butternut squash in a medium oven. Toss them in a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast on parchment until golden but not too browned. Pop the fava beans. Do not be tempted to leave them in their slightly paler little jackets, they are bitter and will not give the finished taste you desire.
Place a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the bottom of a heavy pan and cook the onion and garlic over a gentle heat. As the onions start to turn translucent, add the rice. It is imperative at this point that you continue to stir so that the rice does not stick and catch and that the onion doesn’t go brown.
When the rice also begins to become translucent you can start adding the stock. You do not have to add it a ladle-full at a time but it certainly helps to do it gradually. Apart from anything else it gives you more control over the texture of the finished result. If you tip all the stock in now the rice may be overcooked and too runny – but you can’t take it out at the end!
I add two cups of piping hot stock to start with and then add it cup by cup as the rice begins to soak up the liquid. The trick is to have the stock hot. It cuts down cooking time by half as you aren’t waiting for risotto to come up to cooking temperature after each addition. After you have added four or five cups, taste the rice. This is the only way that you will know if it is cooked enough and tasting is the only way to ensure that it tastes good! Keep adding the stock until you think it is nearly cooked to your liking (I prefer my rice very slightly al dente but loose and creamy too). Carnaroli, Arborio and even American short grain, pudding rice or Paella rice can be used and will all take on varying amounts of liquid before they are cooked to perfection- it is possible you will need more than six cups but just add water at this stage.
When nearly cooked to your liking add the butternut squash so that it has time to impart its flavour but not completely disintegrate. Add the last of your required stock. Taste. Add salt and pepper if needed and stir in the Robbiola and thyme. Just before serving, loosen the risotto with the glass of wine, and stir in the knob of butter to give it a rich creamy taste. Stir in the fava beans so that they are just cooked through and sprinkle on the marjoram leaving a few leaves for garnish.
Plate up and drizzle with the best olive oil you have, and perhaps a twist of pepper.