The weather has most definitely turned and in all fairness we will soon be entering the full colour change season of autumn. I begin to clap excitedly like a little girl waiting patiently for Christmas morning to arrive: Carmela, forever the optimist I guess. I always say to my four children you can without a doubt smell the aroma of autumn. Crisp golden leaves, that outdoor brisk freshness when you breathe in with the possibility of pale blue skies. I do love autumn. A change of season can mean many things. For me the fashionista it means winter knitted dresses, decorative tights and pixie boots and for my kitchen one pot family cooking is once again welcomed in with open arms and a warm heart. Slow cooked meaty casseroles that often taste better 2 or 3 days later once the flavours have further developed, long slow cooked meat sugo (sauce) , hearty vegetable soups (I often refer to this as a bung in) and my favourite one pan dish, a classic risotto , hailing from the North of Italy. Risotto is a warming dish that can take on a different personality every time you prepare and cook it. In Italy there are three risotto rices that you are able to use: arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. The important point to remember is to take your time whilst making risotto. By stirring slowly this will allow the risotto to become creamy which in turn will help to release the gluten, developing a silky finish. A wooden spoon (a wooden spoon with a hole in the centre is best however not essential) in one hand and a glass of vino bianco in the other should help.
A good quality stock and time on your side is all you need. A risotto cannot be made by over ladling in too much stock, clamping on a lid and walking away. The rice is the star of the dish and so each grain requires respect! Once you master a basic risotto then the world is your oyster. I love a vegetable risotto but my favourite has to be a wild mushroom risotto with freshly foraged mushrooms from my local forest or a delicately flavored saffron risotto. My tip is to make more risotto if possible so that you have the chance to make arancini the following day. Arancini are deep fried rice balls with a molten mozzarella centre. Truly scrumptious and a famous street food taken from the streets of Sicily.
Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
1.5 liters ready-made stock, I use vegetable
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed (optional)
500g carnaroli rice
125ml white wine or vermouth
4g Saffron (Left to infuse in 3 tbsp. vegetable stock)
Small bunch of celery leaves, finely sliced
10 basil leaves, torn
Small bunch parsley, finely sliced
70g Parmesan, grated
30g butter, salted
- Warm the stock in a pan on the stove.
- In a frying pan tumble in the chopped shallots and celery, fry gently for 5 minutes until soft and translucent in colour. Add the garlic and stir.
- Tumble in the rice and stir, allow each grain to become coated with the oil and toast lightly for one minute. Pour in the white wine and stir. Allow the wine to cook off, this will take approx. 2 minutes.
- Gradually you need to add in a ladle of stock at a time and stir. Once the stock has been fully absorbed and the pan is clear when you drag a wooden spoon along the base then add another ladle of stock and so on until the rice is cooked. You may not need to use all of the stock. Add the saffron 15 minutes into cooking and stir. Cook on a medium heat. Add half of the fresh herbs and incorporate. This will take around 20 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and tumble in the grated parmesan, remaining herbs and stir in the butter. Clamp on a lid and allow the risotto to rest for at least five minutes. This is called fare la ‘Mantecatura’.
- Serve on warmed plates with a fork, a glass of wine and extra Parmesan.