L’arôme des fines herbes embaume la cuisine….
Whenever someone cooks a risotto on Masterchef, the judges look at them sceptically and say something along the lines of “Are you sure you want to do that?”. Apparently, in Masterchef-land, risotto is something that is nearly impossible to get right. Personally, I disagree. Risotto is an easy and delicious dish, and one that can be varied with whatever ingredients take your fancy. My mum makes an amazing mixed mushroom risotto, and I’ve had some nice seafood versions in the past as well. My personal favourite, however, is this vegetable and herb risotto.
The trick to a risotto is not to overcook the rice. You want it to remain slightly crunchy, or al dente (this is what the Masterchef judges are so strict on). The slightly crunchy texture of the rice contrasts nicely with the creamy, rich flavour that the stock and wine bring to the dish. I find that the best way to achieve this texture is just to watch the changes in the rice and test it as you go. With each addition of stock, you will see the grains of rice becoming puffier and less translucent. When the rice is almost opaque in colour, take a small spoonful and test it: if it is soft enough to chew but still has a slight crunch to it, it’s ready, and you don’t need to add any more stock. If it still feels like you’re chewing on dry rice, keep going. (I think I’m probably making this sound more complicated than it is. You’ll see what I mean once you get started.)
If you don’t need this dish to be vegetarian, I would recommend using chicken stock in place of the vegetable stock, as it brings an extra depth of flavour to the rice. Stirring through some flaked smoked salmon just before serving is a nice touch, also.
Vegetable and Herb Risotto
1 cup arborio or risotto rice
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 button mushrooms, diced (about 1 cup)
black pepper, to taste
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp butter (or olive oil), for frying
1/2 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh curly leaf parsley, finely chopped
grated parmesan or pecorino, for serving
- In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the stock to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce it to a simmer and keep it simmering throughout the cooking process. [Note: I find that it is easiest to keep the stock pot on the back burner of your stove, and your rice pot at the front. This will reduce the chance of stock spilling all over the hob.]
- Meanwhile, using another large saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the butter with the pepper until it starts to bubble. Add carrot and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add diced mushrooms, stir well, and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add rice to the vegetable mix, and stir well to coat with the butter. Using a ladle, spoon one ladleful of the simmering stock into the rice mixture. Stir once or twice, and then reduce the heat to a medium simmer and let it bubble away until most of the stock has been absorbed into the rice.
- Once most of the stock has been absorbed, stir the rice well to stop it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and add another ladleful of stock. Stir once, and leave to simmer again. Repeat this process until you have used about half of the stock. If you find that your rice is sticking to the bottom of the pot, give it a thorough stir, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Once you have used about half of the stock, add the white wine to the rice, along with a smaller ladleful of stock. Stir, and let simmer until nearly all the liquid has been absorbed again. Repeat this process with the remaining stock, until the rice has puffed up and become opaque (do a taste-test as mentioned above to determine whether the rice is cooked). [Note: if you run out of stock, and your rice is still too tough to eat, you can continue this process using hot water until the rice is cooked.]
- Once the rice is cooked al dente, remove both saucepans from the heat. Stir half of the fresh herbs into the risotto, reserving the rest as a garnish for serving. Serve immediately with the extra herbs and a generous sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino.
Keeping time: Risotto can be kept in the fridge and reheated, but is best eaten within 24 hours of cooking.