Chef Steve Cumper on his favoutite veg­e­tar­ian dish: as­para­gus & pea risotto with lemony ri­cotta.


WHEN MAK­ING RISOTTO, the go-to rice for most peo­ple would have to be ar­bo­rio. Al­though there’s noth­ing wrong with ar­bo­rio, it’s re­ally a kind of ‘gate­way’ rice that eases us into the realms of risotto mak­ing. For in­stance, re­mem­ber when it was okay to eat quick oats for brekkie? Then, as our aware­ness grew, we moved on to whole­grain rolled oats and now, for some of us, it’s freshly milled steel-cut oats or noth­ing. Well, it’s like that with risotto. Vialone nano, carnaroli, baldo, cal riso and maratelli are some of the other short-grained and starchy rices favoured by the risotto-rati, with vialone nano re­garded as the king, due to its su­pe­rior tex­ture and creami­ness. I re­call a hol­i­day, a few years back, when my wife Cate and I vis­ited Mu­rano — the Ital­ian is­land famed for its ar­ti­san glass, colour­ful houses and, of course, seafood risotto. We ate in a re­laxed trat­to­ria, seated at a bat­tered ta­ble sur­rounded by nau­ti­cal para­pher­na­lia and black-and-white fam­ily pho­to­graphs, the af­ter­noon sun glint­ing through the mul­ti­coloured glass baubles adorn­ing the win­dows. When the risotto ar­rived, my first im­pres­sions were that it was served on a flat plate, was quite vis­cous and the rice still had a bit of fight left in it (ap­par­ently it’s named af­ter some fa­mous bloke called Al Dente, who liked his rice and pasta a bit un­der­done). The next thing I no­ticed was how glo­ri­ously strong the fish stock was; redo­lent of con­cen­trated shell­fish, it was al­most bisquey and had a pro­nounced aniseed taste rem­i­nis­cent of fen­nel. The stock gave the dish its back­bone and a long-last­ing flavour that prompted sev­eral as­saults on the bread bas­ket to soak up its good­ness. This ex­pe­ri­ence couldn’t have been fur­ther from the con­gealed mounds of in­sipid rice pos­ing as risotto that I had en­dured back home. Still, there should never be any anx­i­ety about mak­ing a risotto (or us­ing ar­bo­rio for that mat­ter). Many peo­ple be­lieve at­tempt­ing risotto is akin to whip­ping up a souf­flé, so they just don’t give it a go. Oth­ers re­cite con­vo­luted rules govern­ing the method, as if it were Royal Ten­nis, du­elling or some other ar­chaic pas­time. What are we so afraid of? It’s not as if some risotto de­ity will swoop down and smote thee fiercely should one de­vi­ate from its divine dic­tum! My ad­vice is this: 1. Start with good, tasty stock and stir the rice con­stantly to re­lease the starches. 2. Cook the rice just long enough so that the grains have a ve­neer of soft­ness and the cen­tre is a de­gree or two firmer (just enough to re­mind you that you’re eat­ing rice and not a co­ag­u­lated gruel of in­dis­crim­i­nate ori­gin). 3. Add heaps of good-qual­ity grated parme­san and loads of but­ter at the end. Fol­low my lax coun­sel and all will be well. In our fam­ily, veg­e­tar­ian risotto is the go-to dish for speedy mid­week din­ners. Though the clas­sic pump­kin and sage ver­sion is a peren­nial favourite, this tasty as­para­gus and pea combo is the hands-down win­ner. As read­ers may know, I’m prone to ‘pimp­ing’ clas­sic dishes to give them some zing. So, while adding a dol­lop of lemony ri­cotta to this dish is akin to a Daubist em­bel­lish­ing an art­work painted by an old mas­ter, some risotto rules are made to be bro­ken. Buon ap­petito! Steve Cumper is a chef and fun­ny­man who lives in Tas­ma­nia and dreams of one day own­ing a fleet of hol­i­day vans called Wicked Cumpers.


Serves 4 4 cups veg­etable or chicken stock 100g but­ter, cut into cubes 1 brown onion, peeled, finely chopped 1½ cups ar­bo­rio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice 3 gar­lic cloves, peeled, crushed ⅓ cup dry white wine 1 tea­spoon dried tar­ragon 2 bunches as­para­gus, trimmed, cut into 3cm pieces 2 cups fresh or frozen peas 1 cup finely grated parme­san ½ bunch mint, finely chopped ½ bunch flat-leaf pars­ley, finely chopped ½ cup fresh ri­cotta, crum­bled 2 le­mons, rind finely grated le­mon wedges, to serve

Place stock in a saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. Re­duce heat and hold at a gen­tle sim­mer. Melt 40g of but­ter in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Cook onion, stir­ring, for 4 min­utes or un­til soft­ened. Add rice, and stir un­til coated and grains ap­pear slightly glassy. Add gar­lic, wine and tar­ragon. Stir for 2 min­utes or un­til wine evap­o­rates. Add a ladle­ful (about ½ cup) of stock. Cook, stir­ring, for 2–3 min­utes or un­til stock is ab­sorbed. Add re­main­ing stock, 1 ladle­ful at a time, stir­ring un­til most of stock is ab­sorbed and rice is al dente. Add as­para­gus and peas. Cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for 3 min­utes or un­til veg­eta­bles are ten­der. Re­move from heat. Stir in parme­san, half of mint, half of pars­ley and re­main­ing but­ter un­til com­bined. Sea­son to taste. Com­bine ri­cotta and le­mon rind in a bowl. Top risotto with ri­cotta mix­ture and re­main­ing mint and pars­ley. Serve with le­mon wedges.

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