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Risottos & winter warmth

21 June, 2012

With winter here and the shortest day upon us, I have found myself craving and cooking winter comfort food; slow cooked skirt steak on my days off to make rich pie fillings with leafy winter greens such as cavolo nero, hearty rich casseroles to accompany wet parmesan polenta, and even a “retro” potato, cheddar and chard bake made up of incredibly wet mashed potatoes containing lots of cream and well seasoned, then topped with blanched chard and cheddar…truly delicious hot and bubbling! on a cold winter’s night. But back to risottos, I’ve always been a pretty good risotto maker, my friend Lisa Wilde introduced me to a very basic risotto dish about 18 years ago, which became a favourite to make all those years ago, – lemon & parmesan risotto, (great when there is nothing in the fridge at home) and featured on our dinner menu with lamb shortloin, rolled in parsley and mint for a long time. At the restaurant I have always tried to make our risottos interesting and inventive, but simple and delicious, creamy and oozy. Some of the best flavour combinations like asparagus with gremolata crumbs, chard and cheddar, sorrel risotto served with pan-fried fish, to name but a few. We have added salads on top; such has watercress and goat’s cheese, or dressed radicchio to add another dimension. Yesterday in a cookbook shopping frenzy buying 5 new cookbooks I discovered Vegetables from an Italian garden…a Phaidon book. What a beautiful book – season by season recipes truly understanding and respecting seasonal greens, something we always try to do at Flo’s treating each ingredient with respect, no ingredient more important than the other. Anyway I came across a risotto recipe – fennel, gruyere & pink peppercorns, that sounds like dinner tonight I said to myself, with a big bowl of freshly made chicken stock in the fridge, but I couldn’t resist slightly changing the recipe and served it with the last red butter crunch from the garden, adding fennel tops and young celery leaves to make an interesting salad. Here’s my version. 

Fennel, gruyere, chopped dill and pink peppercorn risotto

50g unsalted butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 onion finely chopped

2 large fennel bulbs, thinly sliced on a mandolin, fennel tips & fronds reserved

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

300g of Arborio rice

1 – 1.5 litres Chicken stock, heated

100g gruyere grated

5 Tbsp of chopped fennel top or dill

1 tsp of slightly crushed pink peppercorns (Spice Trader available from Moore Wilsons)

Maldon sea salt

  1. Melt half the butter in your risotto pan and cook the onion for 5 mins over a low heat till translucent, add the fennel, nutmeg and olive oil, season with salt and cook for 10 mins until the fennel is tender. Stir in the rice and cook for 1 -2 minutes until the rice is coated in olive oil.
  2. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed, then continue process until all the stock as been absorbed and rice is tender, I always have a glass of wine in my hand at this stage so can take from 20 to 40 mins, I think its getting a feel for your rice, thinking about texture and creaminess. Once your rice is tender, add your gruyere and fennel top or dill and remaining butter, check creaminess and seasoning and add a little more stock if need be – consistency should be that of wet porridge.
  3. Serve to warm bowls and sprinkle with the crushed pink peppercorns.

My advice on risotto; you want it to be creamy, oozy, wet porridge like, think about the ingredients, never leave them un balanced through the rice, if you are using herbs or leafy greens, cut them up finely so they fleck through the rice. Never serve glug or stodge. Always check the seasoning & be creative, while mushroom or porcini risotto has its place in the world….using in-season interesting mushrooms….think outside the square, the combinations are endless.

Love making it, learn from your rice, be inventive & get a real feel for your risotto.