RICE AND EASY
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.
ASPARAGUS & PEA RISOTTO WITH LEMONY RICOTTA
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.