The ideal warming dish as the nights are drawing in and theres a winter chill starting in the air. Autumn is here and that means it’s time for risotto.
I love Italian food, but have never been to Italy. I have been fortunate to have met and cooked with quite a few Italians in the past and can safely say that they are the most pedantic and fussy cooks/ eaters in the world. Everything is how ‘mama made it’ or its no good at all. They are critical of the slightest detail and in this way, great to cook for and with. If you can get an Italian excited about your food, you are doing something very right!
A luxurious risotto for me is a taste of food perfection. The balance of fresh produce, richness and a hint of wine represents all that is amazing in Italian food (not to mention the large hunk of pungent cheese). They of course take it seriously, its seriously good food. Our new chef at work lived and worked in Modena for years and to see him make risotto is to see a true craftsman at work, he gives it such care and dedication. I hope this recipe reflects this passion. I’ve gone for only the finest of local produce and a brilliant wine. All the elements must be selected with equal care, otherwise the risotto will not be a true expression of food heaven.
These Nantmor Shiitakes (Shii – Tree, Take – Mushroom) from the Mushroom Garden are the real highlight in this dish. They’re my kind of mushroom; pungent, meaty and damn pretty too, adding amazing flavour to anything they touch. They are grown on Welsh Oak in the small village of Nantmor, by a local chap named Cynan. The Mushroom Garden now supplies many top restaurants around Britain as mushrooms actually thrive in the mist and damp of Wales. Whenever I find a good mushroom, I always think ‘risotto’, so classic and so good. Due to the Shiitakes being so precious and a little costly, we added some chestnut mushrooms to add a different texture and ensure that we had loads of lovely mushrooms in the risotto.
The Beach House additions here are a lot less butter (a bit more good olive oil) and brown rice. However, we still added some properly ripe parmesan at the end. We aim to eat vegan whenever possible, but parmesan and risotto are a thing of perfect harmony. This was a date night dinner and we were letting it all hang out!
The brown rice is not as starchy as the proper risotto rice, but we are willing to make that sacrifice. We prefer the nutty flavour of brown rice. Try and get some really funky organic rice if you can, rough stuff with chaff, good for the belly and you’re guaranteed more flavour.
We bought a wonderful bottle of southern French rose from the local family ran vineyard Pant Du, set in the beautiful Nantlle Valley. Yes, you heard us right, they are growing wine in these parts. Brave souls indeed. The Pant Du Winery has now opened a small cafe and wine shop, Jane and I visit regularly for tea and to soak in the stunning views and happy family vibes. The wine on sale are from small pockets of Europe, a really interesting selection. This rose was a deep pink beauty. This year at Pant Du has unfortunately been a less than prosperous growing season, but they will still make a few bottles of their German varieties. So a glass of our Costiere de Nimes was sacrificed to the risotto. Only cook risotto with wine that you would enjoy drinking, it will make all the difference to the delicate balance of flavours. You have been warned, risottos are a no cheap plonk zone.
I plundered the herb garden for our herbs; sage, rosemary, oregano and thyme. A brilliant combination for any risotto or stew, we are so lucky that they thrive in our hedges. Unlike our tomatoes, they seem to like the grey conditions. The courgette came from the farm and they are abundant and delicious at the moment. I couldn’t resist a little more greenery in there.
I think we’re ready for the fun bit now, let’s get cooking!
1 big white onion (finely sliced), 4 cloves garlic (crushed), 2 cups of organic brown rice (roughly 1 cup per person), 1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, 1 cup other mushrooms (preferably something like a chestnut), 1 smallish courgette (chopped into small cubes), several glugs of fine olive oil, 2 big handfuls of parmesan cheese (finely grated), 1 glass of decent rose wine (white is also OK), 2 teas of each fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano (chopped), 1.5 ltr good veg stock, 2 knobs of butter (optional, for added richness)
You need to be a bit organised with a risotto, have hot stock ready and all your ingredients to hand, things can happen quickly here and timing is everything.
Boil the kettle and make some nice veg. stock, 1.5 ltr should be enough, if you are super cook, you’ll probably make your own stock from scratch. Have a good bottle of wine open and preferably a glass poured for yourself, all that stirring is thirsty work.
Pre-soak your shiitake mushrooms for an hour or so prior to cooking and have all your bits chopped and ready. The key to a good risotto is to never leave its side, keep stirring and giving it love. You will see the difference in the end.
Begin by gently frying off your onion in a thick bottomed large saucepan, keep them moving, you want them to go glassy but not browned. Once they are getting there, add you garlic and in this case, your courgette and mushrooms (try not to break them up). Cook for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, stirring all the time, then add your rice. Keep stirring and giving the rice a thorough coating of oil. The pan should be nice and hot, you now add your glass of vino, which should immediately sizzle and evaporate, being absorbed nicely by the hot rice and meaty mushrooms.
Now for some serious, steady stirring action. With a good wooden spoon or a spatula, keep going at it, adding your hot stock one ladleful at a time (we put the mushroom soak juices into the stock), this will loosen any starch from the rice and create a lovely smooth texture. Once the stock has evaporated and the rice is hissing slightly, its time for another ladleful.
The rice should take around 15-20 minutes to cook, you want it ‘al dente’. Just before the rice is cooked (try some between your teeth, it should not be chalky, but still firm in the middle) take it off the heat and stir in your cheese and if you like, a knob of butter and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. This is where the real richness kicks in. Put a lid on and leave warming for 5-10minutes to come together.
Risotto must be served and eaten almost immediately. It’s perfect, when its perfect, not afterwards. Your risotto should be liquid, but not liquid enough so that it seeps out around the edges, all should be perfectly combined and blended together, with the rice cooked but not stuck together. Its a fine art! But one well worth mastering.
Pronto! Hot flat bowls are best. We topped ours with some runner beans from garden, a little herb and a slight drizzle of white truffle oil.
We Love It!
Risottos are one of my most satisfying dishes. I love cooking them and eating them equally. They are normally eaten in Italy as a first dish but I cannot imagine that, I like it centre stage. Cooking rice is something that the Italians have perfected. Grazie Mille!x
Shiitakes are re-knowned for their health giving properties, in Japan especially, they believe the Shiitake to help fight cancer. These mushrooms also boast many medicinal and immune system boosting qualities.