Monday, October 29, 2007

Creamy Risotto with Prawns

My lovely Wife loves risotto, and that would be love with a capital ‘L’ as well. She will inevitably order it on a menu if she sees it but more often than not she is disappointed with the results. Risotto seems to veer between a dry lumpen mess to a soggy pile of ooze, or between a pile of plain rice with nothing in it to a pile of vegetables through which you might be lucky to catch a glimpse of the odd grain of rice.

Done well risotto is a dish of perfection; a soft, creamy pile of just so slightly al dente grains with a few nuggets of mushrooms, vegetables or seafood gently stirred through it. My delight with risotto was reignited by the dish we had at ‘Le Manior aux Quat’ Saisons’ in the summer, it was a risotto of summer vegetables and even now, some months later, I am salivating at the thought of it.

Usually risotto is made with Arborio rice which is a medium grain rice named after the town in the Po Valley in Italy where it is grown. The grains are short and stubby and due to its high starch content this variety is absolutely perfect for making risotto.

There are two other types of grain suitable for making risotto: carnaroli and vialone nano and all three types can be bought quite easily in Dubai.

Risotto is one of those fantastic dishes that you can really play around with, below is my prawn version and it incorporates delightful flavours like the aniseed from the pernod and fennel which goes so well with seafood, but there are so many other ideas that you can try. Another favourite is a mushroom risotto with a lovely pile of curls of parmesan on top. If you want to try this use mushrooms that won’t ‘bleed’ too much. Look for button, chanterelle of course, shitake is okay but the king would be porcini. Using something like a portobello mushroom would result in a black, goopy mess!

Anyway, enough rambling, here we go.

Ingredients (serves 2)

200g Arborio rice (do NOT wash)
300ml chicken stock (good quality-homemade)
200ml white wine
2 tbsp Pernod
2 tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into small cubes
50g frozen peas
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
100g frozen or fresh prawns, de-shelled. Thaw if frozen.
½ tsp fennel seeds
50ml double cream, or for a creamier result, about 2 tbsp of mascarpone
Small handful of chopped flat leaf parsely

Making risotto is a slow, gentle process though it is quite possible to have a lovely bowl of it on the table within 45 mins from the minute you walk into the kitchen. However, what it does need is concentration, walking away from the saucepan to attend to something else is going to end in tears.

•In a large saucepan (give yourself plenty of room) over a lowish heat melt a good size knob of butter and about 2 tsp EV olive oil.

•Once melted add the onions, garlic and fennel seeds and gently cook them for about 6 minutes of so until they are translucent and soft.

•Add half the chopped tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. They will break down and form a sort of paste.

•Add the rice and stir gently to ensure a good thorough coating all over the grains.

•Add the pernod and about half of the wine.

•Gently stir the rice until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. It is important to keep the rice moving so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.

•Add the rest of the wine, continuing to stir.

•When absorbed slowly add the stock, a little bit at a time. When getting a little dry add some more.

•After about two-thirds of the stock has been added, thrown in the peas, rest of the chopped tomatoes and the prawns. Stir gently and slowly add the balance of the stock.

•Keep tasting the rice, adjust seasoning, and when you feel that the rice is cooked to your liking (it needs to still be a little al dente), add the cream or mascarpone. Give a final gentle stir, add some chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.

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