Here we are, at the start of a brand new year, full of hope & a handful of resolutions! After decadent December’s sparkly finale of festivities, January’s bright, crisp sunshine has been a welcome sight. Although we’re barely into the New Year, piled up platefuls of plenty are replaced with sparse-looking salads, kale on a crispbread & some rather questionable smoothies. Personally, I don’t go in for all that stuffing & starving yourself (there are other ways to be miserable). As I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog, there are two things to remember: (1) your “in door” is much larger than your “out door” (think about it) & (2) everything in moderation (one slice of chocolate cake, not six). January is not a sponge to wipe away the over-indulgences of December! It’s still Winter & we need warming, cocooning comfort food that satisfies the appetite & fills you up, so this is no time to start depriving your body of much required sustenance!
Weekends here usually involve whizzing around on a Saturday doing chores, catching up with friends, family & phone calls, followed by a lovely lazy Sunday with the Husband, a glass or two of wine & watching old movies together while dinner’s cooking. Sometimes, I’ll cook a roast chicken & make chicken stock at the same time (multi-tasking at it’s finest!). Homemade stock is extremely easy to make, you know what’s in it (no hidden nasties) & is very versatile too, being the base to many soups, sauces & dishes. It also means that we can have a rich, rib-sticking risotto on a Monday night, made with fabulously fresh chicken stock, a bit of bacon & a variety of colourful vegetables. Here’s a link to my easy roast chicken & chicken stock recipe: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/beauty-the-baste/
Risotto is a simply sumptuous staple dish & as long as you give it your full attention (no wandering off mid-cooking to check the score or your social media), it will reward you with a rich, resplendent rice dish. Once you master the basic recipe, you can add your favourite flavoursome ingredients & toppings.
This is a recipe I’ve been cooking for years & have found it works well every time, plus the leftovers can be made into some rather tasty arancini – risotto is a bit like the gift that keeps on giving. Gorgeously gooey & glossy risotto is beautiful piled on a plate, adorned with shimmering roasted vegetables & a drizzle of the oil from the pan with all it’s garlicky goodness. A tray of roasted veggies will cook in about the same time too & any leftovers are perfect on pizzas, tossed in pasta or just topping some toasted ciabatta rubbed with a little raw garlic & olive oil, creating a beautiful bruschetta anytime (I’ve usually got a jar of these in the fridge). If you’re cooking this risotto as a vegetarian meal, simply swap the chicken stock for homemade vegetable stock instead (& leave out the bacon, of course). Ready to give it a go? Hands washed, aprons on!
What you need:
For the Risotto:
Chicken stock (I usually have 2-3 pints in a pan heating up)
4 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon or Pancetta
3 sticks of Celery, washed & trimmed
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed & trimmed
4 large handfuls of Arborio Rice (or you can use Carnaroli if you prefer)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large glass of Dry White Wine (Pinot Grigio is good with this, but dry un-oaked white wine will do)
4oz grated Parmesan (because you’ll need some for garnish)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
For the Roasted Vegetables:
Half a punnet Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 Peppers (each a different colour), deseeded
1 Courgette, trimmed
1 Red Onion, trimmed & outer skin removed
3 cloves of Garlic, chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
What to do:
Firstly, get your stock ready. If it’s already strained & been chilling in the fridge, simple scoop off any layer of fat from the top (there shouldn’t be much). Strain into a large saucepan using a metal sieve to remove any bits in the liquid (if you’ve forgotten to do this, just use a sieve when adding the stock to the rice). This is important, as you don’t want any gritty bits in your risotto. Because homemade stock already has salt in it, you won’t need to add any to this recipe (there’s no added salt to the roasted veggies either – it draws the water out & makes them mushy).
Put the lid on the pan & heat gently on a low heat until nice & hot – don’t rush this, it will only take a couple of minutes. Sometimes, I’ll add a cup of boiling water from the kettle if I’ve made a smaller amount of stock & need more liquid. It’s best to have more than you need, just in case.
Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your roasting vegetables – wash thoroughly & apart from the tomatoes, chop into chunky pieces.
Chuck them all into a roasting tin or large dish, with a good glug of olive oil & some black pepper (a little goes a long way, so go steady with this).
Chop the garlic & add to the tin, giving everything a good toss around (get your hands in there!). If you prefer, just give the garlic a bash with the back of a knife & chuck it in the pan whole – it will flavour everything, but more delicately (plus you can squeeze it onto crusty bread later for a snack).
Put in the middle of the oven to cook while you make the risotto. Give everything a shake after about 10 minutes & return to the oven. Once cooked, pop them on a cooling rack (this will be when your risotti is finished, but here’s a picture to give you an idea of what to expect).
Prepare your risotto vegetables – wash them thoroughly, trim the ends & chop finely. Set to one side.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan & using a pair of scissors, cut the bacon into small pieces into the pan.
Add the onion & celery, stir frying for a couple of minutes until softened slightly & a little translucent. Make sure you keep everything moving, as you don’t want the onions to “catch” & burn.
Add the rice to the pan, stirring well & ensuring it is thoroughly coated in the oil (this is important).
Pour the glass of white wine into the pan & stir well (the scent of this bit is always lovely!). Always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!
Add a couple of ladles of stock into the pan, stirring thoroughly into all the ingredients. Keep stirring gently until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice & repeat this step.
After about 20 minutes, give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (just like pasta – cooked “to the tooth”). The rice should be easy to bite through, yet it will still be firm. If you think it needs a bit longer, add another ladle of stock, stir well & when absorbed, taste it again.
Once you’re happy with your risotto, add a generous handful of Parmesan, along with a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & leave the pan to one side (you can cover it up if you like). Give it a couple of minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese.
Spoon generously onto a plate & top with roasted vegetables, dust with a little black pepper & Parmesan, then tuck in! This rich, warming comfort food tastes lovely with leftover chicken from Sunday dinner or try topping with crispy chicken legs roasted with honey, lemon & fresh Thyme. Have a wander around my other recipes to give you some ideas.
Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers, which are perfect for creating the most amazing arancini (which literally translates as “little oranges”). Because the amount leftover varies each time I make risotto, I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I make these beautiful little rice balls, so these are approximate measurements below. An ice-cream scoop comes in very handy when you’re making these & I have been known to use a melon baller on occasion, hence the title to this blog. Ready? Let’s get rolling!
What you need:
Leftover Risotto (cold & preferably left overnight)
Breadcrumbs (4-6 thick slices of bread, whizzed in the food processor should do it & any bread – I’ve used seeded, white, brown, whatever needs using up)
1 large Egg, beaten
2oz Plain Flour
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
What to do:
Tip the cold risotto into a bowl & break up any large lumps. Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, take little heaps of cold risotto & shape into balls in your hand (yes, you’re going to get messy but that’s half the fun). Leave them on a tray in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour (if you can leave them for a couple of hours, this will be better).
Put the flour in a flat bowl or casserole dish lid. Do the same with the breadcrumbs.
Beat the egg in another similar dish (tip: add a tiny pinch of salt to break down the egg & make it smoother).
Roll them around in a little flour, shaking off the excess, dip in the beaten egg, shaking off the excess again & drop into the breadcrumbs. Give them a good roll around, making sure they are thoroughly coated in breadcrumbs & put on a large plate while you make the rest.
There are two ways I cook these, depending on how many I’ve made. If I’ve just made a few, I’ll shallow fry them. Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan & gently shallow fry a few of the arancini at a time, moving them around the pan gently (I find tongs best for this), until golden all over & crispy. Test one by putting it on a plate or board, cut it in half & it should be piping hot in the middle.
If I’ve made quite a few (which is quite often), I’ll bake them in the oven – really easy & no hot pans to stand over. Get a cupcake or patty tin, put an arancino in each cup & drizzle with a little olive oil (drizzle, not drown!). Bake them for about 10 minutes, turn them using a couple of spoons, & return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until crispy & golden. Test one as before, to make sure they are piping hot in the middle before serving.
Once cooked, remove the arancini gently using a slotted spoon or tongs & place on either greaseproof or kitchen paper to remove the excess oil (or tip them into a metal sieve & shake). Allow them to cool for a couple of minutes before serving. Sometimes, I’ll let them cool completely & pop them in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours, ready to snacking later (they are perfect for picnics).
Perch these plump little treats onto a watercress salad, drizzle with beautiful balsamic vinegar & add a dusting of black pepper. My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato (see my meatball blog for tomato sauce recipe). These more-ish little mouthfuls are perfect for munching, whether for lunch, supper or as a simple starter (also great for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks or curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine & a good film).
Next time you cook a roast chicken for dinner, make some stock & rustle up a resplendent risotto & itsy bitsy teeny weeny tiny little arancini! Stay hungry! 😉 A x