Given the amount of time I spend in my local Revital health food store, you’d think I was seriously into ‘health foods’. But I go there to buy all kinds of things from organic granola, to coconut oil, Pukka herbal teas, Green People suncream, apple cider vinegar and a variety of supplements that I sometimes feel would be useful to take. When it comes to food though, then the ‘foodie’ in me reigns supreme; it’s all about authenticity. Thus, when I told my son who rang as I was making my risotto tonight that I was using organic brown risotto rice, he was almost speechless. His mother, who has always firmly maintained that a good risotto needs a good risotto rice – an Italian arborio or vialone nano or carnaroli – surely couldn’t be serious about using brown rice. Risotto needs white rice that seeps its starches into the mix as you carefully stir, creating a wonderfully creamy consistency. A risotto – a proper risotto – must be creamy. Here is a woman who would never cook a risotto in the oven, or a pressure cooker, or a slow-cooker, or indeed anything other than a normal saucepan with every intent to slowly slowly add hot stock and slowly slowly stir my risotto in quiet meditation until that perfect creamy consistency is reached, the rice cooked through with just a touch of al dente bite still noticeable.
When I was in Revital this morning, I saw the brown risotto rice and recognised the make and knew it to be good. I’d planned a risotto tonight, so why not give it a try. Like many people, I occasionally feel midweek eating should be a little healthier. And anyway, sometimes I like brown rice. Sometimes it’s perfect with its slightly nutty flavour and firmer texture.
I’d bought some fresh broad beans and asparagus on the spur of the moment yesterday in Waitrose. Why is it that when one goes into a supermarket for a couple of things you always come out with a whole bagful of stuff! But how can one resist fresh broad beans and asparagus that are available for limited times of the year? One of the nice things about mostly cooking just for myself is that I eat fairly spontaneously. When you have a family to feed you have to be organised but I tend not to buy lots of food in one go for myself as I find I then end up throwing things away. I decide what to eat for supper (my main meal) on almost a daily basis depending on what I fancy, the weather, my plans, what I’m generally feeling like. Do I feel like something rich and hearty or light and fresh? Fish, meat or vegetable? It’s always easy to pick up any ingredients I don’t have in stock when I’m out during the day and I rather like contemplating what I’ll cook. Working from home, it’s easy enough to walk downstairs at the end of my working day to the kitchen and cooking becomes a time of unwinding and relaxation for me. Cooking is a pleasure and I always want to cook real food rather than heat something ready made. But I know that’s also a privilege that comes from not having a tiring commute.
I decided to make the risotto properly. No throwing everything in together but cooking the vegetables separately so they could achieve their individual tastes. The asparagus was easy. I snapped the stems which will separate the tougher end from the more tender part you want to cook.
I then steamed the asparagus until almost but not quite tender. I removed from the steamer and cut off the tender spears at the end and reserved. I then cut the stems into roughly 1cm slices. Broad beans though are a good deal more of a handful. I had 300g of the whole pods. I broke them open and took out the beans.
I then boiled them in salted water for about 5 minutes then drained and put in cold water. Unless you have the tiniest, newest, freshest broad beans I really don’t think you can get away with not skinning them. Yes it’s all a bit of a fuss but it’s really worth it. The skins are so tough and bitter while the little bean inside is tender and sweet.
It’s quickly done. They pop out of the skins very easily. If you’re new to broad beans it’s a bit shocking how little you’re left with. Nearly everything from the original is thrown away. But believe me, you don’t want to eat those skins! I was also going to add peas. Despite my ‘authenticity’ bent, I’m not a fan of podding fresh peas. Straight from your own garden and very fresh maybe, but otherwise I’ve had better experiences with Bird’s Eye best frozen petit pois. I don’t bother to cook them for adding to a dish like this risotto, but just put some in a small bowl, add a little salt and pour over boiling water. Leave them for a few minutes then drain. For the risotto, have all these vegetables prepared before you begin.
I also took a handful of homemade chicken stock cubes out of my freezer and defrosted and brought to the boil. I always freeze my homemade stock in an ice cube tray and transfer to a freezer bag when solid. It’s then easy to take out just what you want – maybe just a few when making a gravy – and they thaw quickly. If you want to make this a vegetarian dish then of course use a vegetable stock.
In a saucepan, heat a little olive oil and gently soften 1 sliced shallot or small mild onion. Then add ½ cup of rice (for 1 serving) and stir to coat the rice. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth if you have some open and let it bubble until the liquid is absorbed. Then slowly start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful, stirring frequently. What I had forgotten was that brown rice was going to take a lot longer than my usual risotto rice! But that gave me plenty of time to finish off the vegetables.
Heat some olive oil and a knob of butter in a small frying pan and add the sliced asparagus stems. Fry gently until starting to brown a little. Now throw in the prepared broad beans.
Stir and mix together and cook a little more until they’re nicely starting to brown but don’t overcook. The point of doing this is to bring out the maximum flavour of the vegetables; it also gives a slightly nutty, caramelised flavour. Turn off the heat when done.
Keep stirring the rice and adding a little more stock (or hot water if you run out of stock) as each ladleful is absorbed until the rice is tender.Test a few grains on a fork when you think it’s ready. Check seasoning and add salt as needed (depending on how salty your stock is) and a good grating of black pepper. Now add the broad beans and asparagus, and also the prepared peas and a handful of chopped fresh mint.
Mix well together. If there’s no liquid, add a little more stock or water so the rice and vegetables can cook together for a couple of minutes and the vegetables heat through. Now it’s ready. Spoon into a shallow bowl, grate over some Parmesan and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil.
It was really delicious. All the flavours of the vegetables came through and worked together in harmony. The brown rice gave it an extra nutty flavour. However, for me it wasn’t really a ‘risotto’. It lacked that cohesion and creaminess that one expects. It was good though. Very tasty. All those wonderful vegetables shone together and what a green and healthy feast for the eyes too! I’ll use up the rest of the pack of rice but when it comes to wanting a risotto – real risotto – then I’ll be going back to my usual rice.