This dish formed part of a meal we had for our friends recently, and I clearly went a little bit overboard, but it was a special occasion and I’d just bought those little spoons and wanted to use them. If people are interested, I can do a post on the spherified tomato essence, it’s quite the process to get them set like that but with an entirely liquid interior – although it’s not as hard as it sounds! My lovely fiancée had bought me a spherification kit for a birthday present and I wanted to use it – who wouldn’t? The tomato essence is something I do every now and again – it freezes really well and is delicious. If you weren’t using tomato essence, you could use any stock to make the risotto. The point of this post isn’t so much how do you flavour a risotto, but rather how you turn one out without spending ages in the kitchen stirring rice whilst everyone else talks and eats. You do that by stopping just before the risotto is cooked and pausing for as long as you like (up to 2 -3 days in the fridge realistically).
First off, the fundamental principles of making risotto.
- Start with the right rice (Arborio and carnaroli are my two favourites and the classics, but other risotto rices do exist – it has to be a starchy grain though, other normal rices like basmati or long-grain won’t work). They’re pretty much everywhere now.
- Dice your base vegetables as finely as you can – you want them invisible by the time the risotto is done (I like using carrots, celery and banana shallots).
- Sweat your base vegetables off well but entirely without colour on a medium heat – you should season at this point – this will take about 5 minutes.
- Add your rice and cook without liquid (except for the oil and vegetable juices) until a slight translucent edge forms around the rice grains.
- Deglaze the pan with an alcohol and cook until all gone – I like using a dry vermouth normally but the below recipe uses a dry sherry.
- On a low/medium heat, add warmed stock ladleful by ladleful standing over the stove and stirring vigorously waiting to add the next ladleful until the previous one has evaporated fully. At this point you are trying to bash together the grains as much as possible (hence the vigorous stirring and as little liquid in the pan at one time as possible). You do that so the exterior of the grain cracks and the starch is released into your risotto making it creamy.
- After the grains are cooked to your liking (with a little bit of bite), take off the heat and finish with addition of butter, parmesan cheese, mascarpone, any flavourings etc and season as appropriate. Risottos traditionally are finished with more butter and parmesan than one thinks!
Now that whole process takes at least 25-30 minutes which is far too long for you to spend in a kitchen whilst everyone else has fun! It’s also far too long in a restaurant context because from order to plate is often a 10 minute window. So the solution restaurants find is that the whole process can be stopped and restarted at step 6. Basically you cook the rice as per normal until it’s almost ready and stop just when it has too much bite but is close or about 5 minutes before the finish time. Then you lay the rice flat on tray so it cools quickly – you could just cool it in the pot but the longer food takes to cool the more likely it is to go bad (although I’ve done this loads of times and it’s always fine) and put it in the fridge. Then, when you need to cook it, just restart cooking just like step 6. I.e., put the rice in a pan with a ladleful of stock and stir, and keep doing that until it’s done. Finish with your butter or parmesan or mascarpone and serve – a home cooked risotto and you’ve only been away from the table 5 minutes having done all the real work whenever it was convenient for you!
Tomato essence risotto with sherry and peas
- Finely diced carrots, celery and shallots – The Italians call this a Soffrito base. I find one carrot, 2 banana shallots and a few celery sticks is about right
- Splash of dry Sherry
- 400g Arborio rice – carnaroli or any other risotto rice also works
- ~1.2 litres of tomato essence – you may need more or less depending on the heat of your pan but you can always top up with water
- Half a cup of fresh or frozen peas. I actually prefer using frozen peas as they are flash frozen when picked and are often fresher than “fresh peas”. But if you use frozen you should allow to defrost over some kitchen paper to remove the water.
- Large knob of butter
- Handful of freshly grated parmesan
To cook the risotto, follow the steps I outlined above just substitute in the sherry for the vermouth. Make sure to season with salt as you go, so season the sweating vegetables and then season at the end. It’s particularly important to season the vegetables as the salt draws out the moisture reducing the chance of colouring the vegetables which would alter the flavour and colour of your risotto. When deciding if your risotto is finished, you can make the risotto more or less creamy by adding an extra splash of stock right as you take it off the heat.
At the end you will add the peas. If using frozen peas, add the defrosted peas to your risotto for the last 30 seconds of cooking. If using fresh peas then cook them in a pan with a knob of butter and a tablespoon or two of water. This way of cooking will give a really lovely flavour to them. Add the cooked peas just before serving.
Just before serving stir in the butter and parmesan and there you go.