RISOTTO can be fairly tricky to get right. When I was in my first restaurant job 20 or so years ago our chef was left in no doubt about the quality of his risotto when a disgruntled customer left him a note: "Dear chef, your risotto was crap!" Contrary to what many people think, making a risotto is not just about boiling rice and mixing it with other ingredients. Doing it properly requires a fair bit of patience, concentration, careful timing and confidence in your flavourings. I should know - I've messed up a few.
There are two basic methods: baking in the oven or cooking it in a pot on the stove. For my money, the second option is the best, as long as you're prepared to do quite a bit of stirring. Believe me, if you make risotto for a day, you'll end up with arms like an Olympic rower. Baking in the oven is certainly less work but I find that it can leave the rice rather dry. Remember, risotto is meant to be moist and a bit sticky, so remember to use the correct type of rice - arborio rice or risotto rice. The other thing to consider is flavour - have lots of it. If you're afraid to put plenty of taste into it, you'll end up with a bland rice pudding. Make your stock separately and make it as strong as you dare. Rice absorbs flavour like nothing else. Classic Italian risotto is made with white wine and parmesan, but other ingredients such as rocket, peas, porcini mushrooms, broad beans, spinach and cheeses such as goat's cheese or stilton can be pretty successful. So if you follow my advice you'll get out a pot and start stirring. And if you get distracted for a minute and the rice sticks to the bottom, don't worry. Once you've served your risotto, scrape the stuck rice off and have it later with toast. It's the best bit.
Field mushroom, spinach and blue cheese risotto (serves 6-8) Ingredients: 500g arborio rice a medium onion, finely diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed 500ml vegetable stock 200g blue cheese, crumbled 2 bay leaves 6-8 field (flat) mushrooms, washed and chopped 200g fresh spinach leaves, washed and roughly chopped 200ml double cream 100g fresh parmesan, grated milk, olive oil, salt and pepper
Method: Bring the vegetable stock to a simmer and add the blue cheese and bay leaves. Cook until cheese has dissolved. In a heavy-based pot, heat a little olive oil and sauté the chopped onion with the crushed garlic for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and stir in thoroughly then stir in the cheese and stock mixture. Keep stirring and add the spinach and the double cream. Taste and season with salt and black pepper if necessary. Keep stirring, adding milk as the rice absorbs the liquid, until the rice is just cooked. Serve with mixed leaves and parmesan.
Baked chicken and chorizo risotto (serves 6-8)
Ingredients: 500g arborio rice 4 chicken supremes, 200g-250g each, skinned and diced 2 to 3 red onions, diced 4 cloves garlic, crushed a red chilli, finely diced 400g chorizo, chopped 1 tbsp ground paprika 1ltr chicken stock 30g fresh coriander 2 bay leaves olive oil salt and black pepper 100g fresh parmesan, grated
Method: Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer and add the bay leaves. In a large pot, heat a little olive oil and sauté the onion with the garlic, chilli and paprika for one to two minutes. Add the diced chicken and sauté until sealed. Add the tomatoes and coriander, cook for a further three minutes then add the rice and stir in the stock. Add the chorizo. Pour the mixture into a baking tin or casserole dish, cover and pop in the oven. After 20 minutes, stir and season with salt and pepper. Once rice is tender, serve with fresh salad and parmesan.