It has just about started raining where I live. Every year, as soon as it does, I throw all caution and diets to the wind and give myself a big fat excuse to indulge in something hot and fried, or wildly starchy such as risotto. Much is made of risotto, the creamy Italian rice dish, and few make it really well.
The main characteristic of risotto rice, as opposed to ours, is that it is able to absorb moisture and swell to more than double its volume after being cooked, while still retaining a bite in the centre. The best rice for risotto is Arborio (which is now available in India), Baldo, Carnaroli (also available in India), Vialone Nano or Roma. Rice for risotto is never washed as this removes the starch which gives risotto its creamy texture. The principle is to cook the rice slowly by letting it gradually absorb stock, which is added little by little until the rice is cooked. It is important to constantly stir to prevent it from sticking. It is also essential that your stock is hot so that the rice doesn’t stop cooking every time you add stock. Take it off the gas just before you think it is ready because it will continue to cook in its own heat. The ideal consistency is soft and runny. You should be able to pick it up with a fork. It should never be cooked until it is solid. Left over, risotto makes the most delicious fried balls called arancini. All you have to do is add an egg to the cold rice with a little grated Parmesan and some breadcrumbs, make little balls in the palm of your hand and deep fry them.
Risotto is not difficult to get right, provided you follow all the instructions. It is a sublime dish to taste but, I must warn you, it looks like khichdi. I made the dish below with a French chef, Pierre Burgade, from The Oberoi, Mauritius. What I like about it is that you can half cook it so that you are not slaving over a hot stove trying to guess whether the risotto is ready or not.
Creamy Risotto with Rocket and Porcini Mushrooms
A sure-shot traditional recipe which I have made several times; it comes out perfect every time.
¼ cup onion, diced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
500ml vegetable stock
100g dried porcini, soaked in room temperature water
¾ cup cold butter, cut into cubes
¼ cup mascarpone cheese
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup parsley
2 cups rocket leaves
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Sauté the diced onion in half the olive oil on medium heat. Add the Arborio rice and mix well. Add about ¾ of the vegetable stock, one ladle at a time, until the stock is absorbed by the rice. Continue this process until the rice is approximately half cooked. Place the rice on a plate and keep in the refrigerator until final cooking.
When you are ready to eat, drain the porcini, cut in half and sauté with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Season to taste with some of the salt and pepper. Add the half-cooked rice to the porcini in the pan and mix well. Little by little, ladle the remaining stock to the rice and continue stirring until the rice is almost cooked. Add the cold butter in pieces along with mascarpone and Parmesan cheese. Then add the white wine and chopped parsley and continue to stir for a few seconds. The rice should not be mushy. Briefly sauté the rocket leaves in the remaining olive oil and season to taste. Place the sautéed rocket leaves into a preheated pasta bowl. Pour the risotto on top and serve immediately.
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