The Italian risotto is something I didn’t make in my kitchen for a while after I started cooking. I’d usually pay money to eat it as it was one of those things that I didn’t cook in my kitchen. Once, in the small town of Palmerston North, New Zealand, in a “fancy” restaurant, I had a roast vegetable risotto. The rice was half-raw (no, not al dente) and I got put off the taste for a while. A little later, a friend made a spinach-pesto risotto that was so rich, I was ill the next day. Once again, I was put off risotto for a while. A few months later, another friend of mine made a very nice roast vegetable risotto with pesto and I thought I’d put it back on my list of things I like to eat. Clearly, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this dish.
In the first year of my PhD, I met a postdoctoral fellow whose husband was a chef. One day, she gave me his recipe for a mushroom risotto (he is also a mushroom grower by hobby) while chatting over lunch. I soon tried it and ever since I tried it, I’ve been in love with it. I make modifications in terms of what veges I add but the basic recipe is always the same. I have also taught my partner to make it who has extraordinary patience for stirring the risotto after each addition of stock. As a result, his risottos are always better than mine. The recipe here is for a red and yellow capsicum, zucchini and brown mushroom risotto. To spice it I use pepper, lemon rind and lemon juice. We loved it and hope you do too.
2 cups of arborio/risotto rice
2 cubes of vegetable stock
500ml of boiling water
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of dry white wine (optional)
1 and 1/2 cup of vegetable, finely diced (I used 1/2 red capsicum, 1/2 yellow capsicum, 1/2 zucchini and 4-5 field mushrooms)
Juice of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Generous pinch of ground pepper
2 tablespoons of oil for sauté-ing vegetables
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Dissolve the stock cubes in the boiling water and have a ladle handy to scoop it into the risotto.
2. In a frying pan, heat 1 table spoon of oil and add the zucchini, peppers and mushroom to it (picture 1)
3. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and well cooked. Sprinkle a generous pinch of pepper on the vegetables, mix and turn the heat source off (picture 2).
4. In a large wok or thick-bottomed pot, heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and add the thinly sliced onions to it.
5. When the onions turn translucent, add the garlic to the oil and mix well.
6. When the raw smell of the garlic disappears, add the risotto rice and mix well.
7. Watch the rice carefully and make sure it doesn’t start to go brown. You will notice that each rice grain will start to go translucent from the outer edges towards the inner edges of the grain.
8. When the edges of most of the grains are translucent, add the wine and mix well.From this point, be prepared to stir for the next 15-20 minutes.Use a wooden spoon to do the stirring (picture 3).
9. The trick to knowing when to add the next scoop of liquid to a risotto is this. Using the wooden spoon, draw a line in the middle of the cooking risotto. Imagine you are Moses spitting the Red Sea with your wooden spoon and it might make it easier. If the liquid in the risotto rushes to the centre instantly, then you need to keep stirring. However, if the liquid is viscous and moves towards the centre but the two sides don’t quite meet, then, it is time for another scoop of vegetable stock (picture 4).
10. Add a scoop or two of vegetable stock and stir continuously to make a gooey risotto. Between each addition, taste a grain or to of the rice to determine how soft it is.
11.When the rice tastes half-cooked to you, add the pre-cooked vegetables to the risotto and mix well (picture 5).
12. You might not need to use all of the stock to cook the risotto. Alternatively, you might need more. If you need more, I would use boiling water instead of stock because the risotto should be salty enough at this point. Any more salt and it might get a bit hard to eat.
13. If you get impatient like I do towards the end, tip all of the remaining stock into the risotto and stir until the liquid is absorbed by the rice.
14. When the rice tastes cooked but has a slight crunch to it, your risotto is very nearly done (picture 6). Another hint is that the rice will not slurp the moisture up as eagerly as it did at the beginning. A third hint is that the risotto liquid coats and sticks to your wooden spoon.
15. Add the lemon rind and juice and stir into the risotto until uniformly spread (pictures 7 & 8).
16. Turn the heat source off and stir in the grated parmesan. The parmesan will melt instantly and make the risotto go really sticky (picture 9).
17. Eat the risotto while hot. Use small serving sizes at it is more filling than it appears to be. Risotto re-heats quite well and make a yummy lunch for the next day (picture 10).
1. If you are a vegan, leave the parmesan out of the recipe.
2. If you don’t drink, leave the wine out of the recipe.
3. Other risotto vegetable combinations are
– Red peppers, chilli and portobello mushrooms
– Portobello mushrooms sautéed in sage butter
– Butternut squash sautéed in sage butter
– asparagus, peas and lemon