‘Risotto with Parmesan Cheese’ – p.204

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Now, this one comes with a bit of a disclaimer: This book taught me to make risotto, and I’ve made it, in the years since those first tentative stirs, again and again but, and this is an emphatic ‘but’, I’ve never made it in anything close to half an hour. Forty five minutes, maybe, a full hour, definitely, but never, ever thirty minutes. I’m not saying it can’t be done (and, indeed, Nigel concedes in the recipe that it “…only just makes it into this collection”) but it’s hard to see how it could really benefit from it if you have just a few more minutes to hand.

In any case, I’m eternally in the debt of Real Fast Food for introducing me to the joy that is risotto; standing at the cooker, stirring, stirring, stirring and stirring must be up there with ‘punching a cushion’ and ‘room full of kittens’ re therapeutic activity, but with the added bonus that you get a delicious meal at the end of the process. Watching the rice transform from rock hard, white kernels to al dente pearls, shrouded in a blanket of smooth creaminess, and every stage in between is surely one of the great transformations in cooking (along, maybe with roasting a chicken, baking a loaf of bread or burning an aubergine for baba ghanoush; the simple stuff really is so often the most striking) and is a joy to behold.

Attentive is right, though: Nigel exhorts us to “…ignore the ringing telephone or anything demanding attention, until the rice has taken up all the stock”, and it’s advice well worth following. Whilst therapeutic, all that stirring is (and some cooking brainiac will doubtless correct me here) exactly the thing that makes risotto the creamy, starchy delight it is, rather than simply rice so, if you have other things to do, cook something else. This is one for the focussed.

I began by making the soffritto. The book suggests a finely chopped onion softened for five minutes in butter, but I can’t think of any earthly reason (other than perhaps compiling a book of 30 Minute Recipes) not to give it more time. I softened garlic and shallots, very finely chopped, in plenty of butter for a good 20 minutes. Celery, carrot, leek and all the usual stuff would also be a welcome addition at this stage, I dare say. Next, I added 275g of Arborio Rice (I once saw a fellow on MasterChef make what he claimed to be a Risotto with basmati rice, a deed that cost him his place in the competition and, I’ll wager, not a little dignity), stirred it around a little, then poured in a ladleful of hot stock (the recipe requires a glass of white wine at this stage but, here in Sweden, such delights are kept under lock and key by employees of the government, and I couldn’t be bothered to go to their special shop, and anyway, I find, much like with soup, the end result is as bearable as the stock you use) and stirred away til it was all absorbed, before adding another, stirring til gone, and another, etc, etc until I’d worked my way through pretty much a litre of liquid, and found myself before a pan of oozing fluid, something like the texture of melted cheese, but supporting a thousand little grains of rice.

At this stage, the recipe instructs the addition of a healthy wedge of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese, to which I also added some portobello mushrooms, dry fried til all their liquid had evaporated, and a fistful of chopped flatleaf parsley.

We ate it alongside a green salad, and some buttered crispbread (the good sort, with which we a spoiled in Sweden).

An incessantly moaning toddler went from declaring it inedible, to nibbling tiny forkfuls, to happily shovelling it down, all smiles, which is certainly endorsement enough for me.

Buy your own copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’ HERE.


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