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Ballymaloe Cookery School Risotto

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The rice dishes of the Veneto region are famous. Rice was introduced there by the Arabs and many varieties of short-grain rice still grow in the marsh lands around the river Po.

In Venice, risotto is made almost liquid, its great quality is its immense versatilit­y. The Veneto is richer in vegetables than any other area in Italy so all sorts of vegetables and combinatio­ns of vegetables are included in the dish as well as herbs, poultry, game, chicken livers or shellfish. There is even a risotto made with squid ink and another with pine kernels and raisins which is actually a legacy of the Arabs.

Serves 6

1¾ – 2¼ pints (1 - 1.3L) broth or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock 1oz (25g) butter 1 onion, finely chopped 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 14oz (400g) Carnaroli or Arboria rice 1oz (25g) butter 2oz (50g) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano is best)

Sea salt

First bring the broth or stock to the boil, turn down the heat and keep it simmering. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion and sweat over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes, until soft but not coloured.

Add the rice and stir until well coated (so far the technique is the same as for a pilaff and this is where people become confused). Cook for a minute or so and then add ¼ pint (150 ml) of the simmering broth, stir continuous­ly and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another ¼ pint (150 ml) of broth. Continue to cook, stirring continuous­ly.

The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside. If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey. It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuous­ly. The risotto should take about 25-30 minutes to cook.

When it is cooking for about 20 minutes, add the broth about 4 tablespoon­s at a time. I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on.

The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly ‘al dente’. It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick. The moment you are happy with the texture, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese, taste and add more salt if necessary.

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