I’m always on the look out for new risotto combinations, and lets face it there are a lot of them out there, some good and some great. This one goes into the great category. It’s wonderful on its own or paired with some grilled fish. I know in Italy risotto is never served as a side dish to a main meal but it’s something that I quite like to do. You can make this vegetarian by omitting the bacon/speck and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock without any great loss of flavour. Broad beans are one of my favourite vegetables and pair with the dill beautifully – a combination used extensively in Persian cooking. If fresh broad beans are in season then by all means make use of them, but like peas, broad beans are another vegetable that don’t suffer one bit from being frozen. If you’re pushed for time and want to prep some of this, or any risotto, in advance you can soften the onions and get to the point of adding the rice and the wine before turning off the heat and placing on the lid until you’re ready to continue. I do this constantly with no ill effect. When you’re 20-25 minutes away from being ready to serve, turn the heat back on, add the first ladle of hot stock and bring to a simmer and continue as usual.
Ingredients – Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, very finely diced
80g speck or smoked bacon, cut into lardons – you can omit this if you’re making it for vegetarians
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup white wine
4-5 cups chicken stock – you can also use vegetable stock.
300g frozen broad beans, defrosted and podded – or you can use 300g of fresh broad beans, podded weight
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
⅓ cup finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Place the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Leave it over a low heat to keep it hot. Heat the oil in a good size saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and speck/bacon, along with a pinch of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent and the speck has started to render it’s fat. Add the rice and stir well, making sure that all the grains are coated in oil. Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated, then add a ladle full of the simmering broth. At this stage check the heat of your pan. You want the liquid, when it’s added, to instantly come to a simmer but you don’t want it to boil away too vigourously. Keep stirring, adding a ladle of stock at a time when each last addition has been incorporated. When you have about 4 ladles of stock left, check the rice, it should be almost done, with some bite still remaining in the grain. At this point add the broad beans, peas and dill with the next ladle of stock.
Keep stirring and cooking and adding the stock as previously. When the rice is done (at which point most if not all of your stock will have been used) turn off the heat and add the parmesan, butter, freshly ground pepper and some salt if it needs it. Stir the butter and parmesan into the rice as vigorously as you can then immediately put on the lid and let the risotto sit for just a couple of minutes. This last step is called mantecare and it’s this vigoruous final beating of the butter and cheese which is essential in creating a creamy homogenous risotto and many Italians believe that missing out on this step is why so many risottos fail miserably. A good risotto must have some fluidity to it, you should be able to shake the plate and have it move and spread out, it shouldn’t be a stiff pile of rice. If you find that your risotto is looking too “stiff” add a small splash of stock (or boiling water if you’ve run out of stock) at the very end with the butter and parmesan to help achieve this. Serve straight away topped with extra grated parmesan.