I think I’ve got a bad case ooze addiction. After the cauliflower cheese I craved more ooze, and more sophisticated ooze. And nobody does sophisticated ooze like the Italians.
And as the English asparagus I love so much is sprouting all over London, I was able to combine two desires into a seasonal ooze of a risotto. With a poached egg on top because I love the wibbly, yolky mess that leaches out when you get one just right.
One of the real advantages of cooking risotto is that it’s really very simple to do, one step at a time. And it’s also forgiving of improvisation and makes for some great follow up meals using the left overs.
There are a couple of key things to bear in mind however. The stock is of great importance. It flavours the whole dish, so for an asparagus risotto, I use vegetable stock. To do otherwise is to risk killing the delicate flavour.
Otherwise, homemade chicken stock is the best, unless you are making seafood (use a light fish stock) or mushroom (vegetable steeped with dried porcini).
Also, like meat, risotto needs to be rested for a better result. Mix in some grated hard cheese (and cubes of butter if you want the full creamy but unhealthy finish), cover it, and leave for at least five minutes.
This transforms a risotto caterpillar-like from a liquidy, gloopy rice dish into a sensationally creamy, unctuous and harmonious butterfly of a dish oozing (yes oozing!) with glorious flavour.
Other than that, the world’s your oyster, or at least your risotto. Go traditional with a milanese bone marrow base, or stir some pesto in. Add peas and little fried cubes of pancetta or broad slabs of field mushrooms and thyme. Or, opt for something simple and seasonal and stir in some English asparagus.
For the definative look at risotto you could do far worse that getting hold of Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy. It has 78-odd pages on it. And Giorgio has a real passion for the stuff.
If using fresh vegetables like asparagus, chop it up small and add it about five minutes or so before the end of the cooking. If you are using pancetta or chorizo or salami, then fry it at the start to infuse the fat you cook the rice in. And as always, use the best possible ingredients as the risotto really takes on the character of what you put in it.
250g risotto rice – arborio, carnioli or similar
1 litre stock (I use Marigold low salt veggie stock for this one instead of my usual home made chicken)
1 glass white wine (250ml)
100g parmesan grated as fine as you can make it
1 small handful of parsley finely chopped
1 large handful of asparagus chopped into bite size pieces
2 sticks of celery
Half a lemon
1 egg per person
White wine vinegar
Finely slice the onion and celery. Heat up a glug or two of oil in a wide, heavy based saucepan and gently fry the onion and celery over a medium heat until they start to soften.
Throw in the rice and stir and fry it until the rice turns from chalky white to a smooth opaque ivory colour.
Add the wine and stir until it’s absorbed by the rice. Pour in enough stock to reach the top of the rice, and let it bubble away gently, not too furiously. Stir every minute or two.
As the rice absorbs the liquid, keep topping it up and stirring to prevent the rice from sticking. You don’t need to do this continuously, just every minute or two. After 25 minutes or so, the rice should be slightly soft but firm with just a bit of al dente bite.
Separate the asparagus tips from the rest and put them to one side. Add the chopped stalks about six minutes before you finish cooking the rice, the tips two minutes later.
Fill a pan with hot water for poaching an egg and put over a medium heat.
When the risotto is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan and half the parsley. Squeeze the lemon over it, stir and cover. Leave it for five minutes or so.
You can add cubes of butter here for extra creaminess and a grind or three of black pepper won’t go amiss.
Now poach the egg. I use a non stick omlette pan to save hours of scrubbing cooked eggwhite off the inside. Fill it to about 4cm depth with water and add a wee splash of vinegar.
Put over a medium heat and when the water is on the cusp of boiling, but not quite there, gently break the eggs one at time and slide the contents in.
Cook for 2-3 minutes, but no more, otherwise you get a hard crumbly yolk and the joy here is to break the yolk into the risotto so that it oozes all over.
Spoon the risotto onto plates and add one egg on top of each portion. Scatter the rest of the parsley and grind over some black pepper. Sit back. Enjoy.