Its a common misconception that cream should be added to risotto to give the creamy texture that it’s well loved for. Not so. Some people say that it adds richness and flavour, some that they like the creaminess, I say that cream adds only calories. The flavours in risotto, both the delicate and the deep come from using great and carefully sourced products from start, to finish, and the texture only comes from using the right rice, and cooking it the right way.
There are 3 important considerations that remain constant:
Heady aromatics of celery (the greener the better), garlic and white onion give the rice some basic depth of flavour, make sure you season these finely chopped vegetables as when the rice follows them into the pan it will absorb all their concentrated flavours.
The are many types of rice that you could make risotto with, but in my experience the only type that slowly and steadily releases its starch, producing the creamy oozy texture is Carnaroli. Constant stirring is not only therapeutic, but here it negates the need for cream and if the risotto is well flavoured and seasoned, its also negates the need for parmesan.
Good stock is of equal importance to the rice, the flavours in the stock need to compliment and add depth to the other flavous that you plan to add. A pre made stock is too generic, a stock cube, far too salty. Think about the kind of risotto you are cooking, and ensure that stock sits well with those flavours. For example, if you are cooking a seafood risotto, make it a light fish or vegetable stock, and add some saffron, perhaps for a mushroom risotto, add some of the soaking juices from dried porcini.
The risotto trilogy above will always form the basis of a fantastic risotto (with the addition of a little wine, and a lot of stirring) you just need to add your own flavours to it, be it herbs, vegetables, fish or meat.
Porcini Risotto is my favourite, here is how I do it dairy free for 6 people:
1200ml light chicken stock
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium white onions (sweet ones work quite well)
2 fat cloves of garlic
3 sticks of celery
500g carnaroli risotto rice
300ml dry white wine
salt and pepper
2 table spoons of fresh thyme leaves
A few sprigs of fresh parsley
400g fresh mushroms, wild are best, chestnut and portobello add a lovely nuttiness
40g dried porcini
Start by soaking the porcini for 20 minutes or so in some freshly boiled water. Preheat your oven to about 200 degrees celcius , and make sure you have a baking tray to hand.
Get the chicken or vegetable stock nice and hot in a pan on top of your stove, and strain a little of the porcini soaking water into it- the more you add, the deeper a mushroom flavour you will give the stock.
Slice the fresh mushrooms to just less than 1cm in thickness, toss them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves, season with pepper, pop these onto the baking sheet and into the oven. You will need to check these as you go- perhaps turning once, they want to be golden brown with a little roasted mushroom colour, not dehydrated like the dried porcini started.
As finely as possible dice the onion, garlic and celery, add this to a large pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a good grind of black pepper and a little salt. Get it sweating and make sure the heat is low, you don’t want to colour the vegetables, just soften them. Keep stirring, and after they have turned translucent, 8-12 minutes or so, add the rice and turn the heat to medium.
Stir to coat the rice in the oily vegetables, and once the rice turns slightly opaque and starts popping and frying, add the wine and let it bubble down. Try not to let it catch.
Once the rice has sucked up all the wine (lucky rice), start adding the porcini scented stock, one ladle at a time, stirring after each ladlefull until the liquid is absorbed. This is the most important part of the cooking process as the slow constant stirring is effectively massaging the creamy starch out of the rice grains. (again, lucky rice)
Keep testing the rice, after 12-13 minutes it should be al dente, add the remaining thyme leaves, the golden roasted mushrooms and the drained soft porcini.
Serve on warm plates, and for a cheffy touch, drizzle with a little vibrant green extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.