How to make… the perfect Risotto with Sue Ashworth

SERVES 4

Whatever the time of year, there’s always good reason to tuck in to a plate of comforting risotto, and Sue’s step-by-step recipe creates a creamily delicious veggie one.

Sue’s a great friend of Lakeland (she writes lots of our recipes) and has been writing about food and cookery for many years, supplying features and recipes to many popular women’s magazines, websites and food companies. As a member of the Guild of Food Writers, she believes that great-tasting food shouldn’t be difficult, expensive or time-consuming to prepare, and that it’s important to have well-written recipes that are easy to follow and give great results. Just like this one!

Ingredients

  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 300g risotto rice (Arborio or carnaroli)
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • 300g butternut squash (weighed when peeled and deseeded), chopped
  • 1 bunch spring onions, chopped
  • 75g fine asparagus or green beans, trimmed and chopped
  • A few sprigs of tarragon (or 1 tsp dried)
  • 75g Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Basil leaves and Parmesan cheese shavings, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Prepare the stock. Pour 1.2 litres of boiling water into a saucepan. Crumble in the stock cubes. Add the bay leaf and simmer for 10 minutes. You could make up part of the stock by using reserved cooking water from carrots or leeks, and if you have a few parsley sprigs, add these to the stock too. This quantity gives you plenty of stock – you may not need it all.
  2. In a very large deep frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil together. Remember – the pan needs to be large, as the rice expands to almost fill it! Add the rice and sauté it gently over a low heat, stirring often, until it looks translucent. This will take about 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on the rice and don’t leave it unattended, as it must not brown.
  3. Pour the white wine into the rice, tipping it in all at once. Let it bubble up, then allow it to settle down and cook gently until all the wine has been absorbed. Stir the rice frequently to make sure that it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. You’ll find that it will take 3-4 minutes on a low heat for the liquid to be absorbed.
  4. Before you add the butternut squash to the frying pan, check that the cubes are small enough – they should be no more than (roughly!) 1cm square, as they need to cook with the rice until tender. Add them to the frying pan with the spring onions, stirring them in. Cook over a low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Don’t allow the rice or vegetables to brown.
  5. Ladle about one quarter of the hot stock into the rice, stir it in, then allow it to simmer gently until it has been absorbed. It’s really important that you cook the rice slowly, so that it gradually becomes tender all the way through. And don’t be tempted to stir all the time – it’s not necessary, and can break down the rice grains too much to give a stodgy texture.
  6. Keep ladling in the hot stock as soon as the last ladleful has been absorbed. From the time you start adding it, the rice will cook in 20-25 minutes. Add the asparagus spears when you’ve been cooking the rice for 12-15 minutes – they will need about 8-10 minutes to cook. It’s good if the asparagus just retains a little ‘bite’, though add them earlier if the stalks are quite thick, or chop them into smaller pieces.
  7. Taste the rice from time to time to check when it’s tender. As soon as it is, grate in the Parmesan cheese finely and stir it through gently. Remember to always stir the risotto gently, not vigorously – it’s one of the secrets to its success. Share the risotto between four warm plates and serve topped with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese shavings.

 

Little extras

Chicken, Chorizo and Red Pepper Risotto
For a delicious change, make the risotto using a large chopped, deseeded red pepper instead of butternut squash. At the same time, add 100g sliced chorizo. Cook as before, though use chicken stock instead of vegetable. When almost ready, add 200g chopped cooked chicken and a few halved cherry tomatoes and cook until the rice is tender and the chicken is heated through.

Arancini
The most fabulous way to use up leftover risotto! In fact, you could plan to use half the main risotto to serve two, using the rest to make these deliciously crispy risotto balls. Simply add 1 beaten egg to a half quantity of risotto, then form into egg-sized ovals. Dip in beaten egg, then roll in breadcrumbs to coat. (Panko breadcrumbs work well). Deep fry or shallow fry until golden brown and serve with a little grated Parmesan.

 

Troubleshooting

Got a question? Let Sue help!

Q What’s the best rice to use for risotto?
Buy rice labelled as ‘risotto rice’ or choose Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano. All are short to medium length grains, with a high starch content to give the soft, creamy texture that you’re aiming for.

Q  How can I keep a living basil plant fresh?
A  I keep mine for months on a sunny windowsill. Just remove from the packaging, stand in a shallow bowl and always water from below so it takes up the moisture it needs. Pick off leaves as you need them – new ones will soon grow!

Q  Butternut squash is so unwieldy to handle. Help!
Before peeling, trim off the base and the stalk end, then cut off the narrow ‘neck’. Stand this firmly on a board and cut into four. Do the same with the bulbous end – then peel the pieces with a Y-shaped peeler and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Easy!

 

5 Golden Rules

The right variety of rice is absolutely essential. Check out our Q&A for details!

Stir often, though gently. Add the liquid gradually and take care that you’re not boiling it away rapidly – just simmer slowly. Patience please!

As always, good quality ingredients matter. So choose a nice wine (one that you’d be happy to drink!) and stock cubes with a good flavour. Knorr are good, and Marigold bouillon powder works well too.

Buy a piece of Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself, rather than buying ready-grated. It will have a better flavour.

Important! Be ready to eat when the risotto is done – if it’s left hanging around, it will go stodgy! 

 

Recipe and food styling:  Sue Ashworth

Photography: Jonathan Short