I recently had dinner with a friend who declared that she could never cook risotto properly. And, as we discussed the different methods at the table two more of us disagreed on the timings involved, on the reason for the stirring and on the amount of stock. It struck me that, although it is technically a very simple dish, it is also easy to get wrong especially since there are so many variations.
Whilst making this Riverford one, I did a little non-scientific investigation into the differences. For example, in terms of method do you add the stock all in one go (as for a baked risotto), always do it the ‘proper’ way adding the stock a little at a time, stirring after every addition, or, as I discovered recently, do you add half the stock up front, leave it to cook for about ten minutes and then do the stirring for the second half of the stock?
And what about proportions and portions? Nigel Slater’s vary from 275g rice/1 litre of stock (Real Fast Food) to 200g/1 litre (Kitchen Diaries), the arborio packet instructions say 225g rice to 850ml/1 litre of stock and Locatelli’s recipes tend to work on the basis of 200g rice/1.25 litres of stock. This Riverford recipe uses 360g rice/1.5 litres of stock to serve 6 but a later recipe in the same book uses 220g rice/1.15 litres to serve 4. Finally Delia sometimes measures her rice in ml, which I find very confusing.
So where do you start? I would say, averaging out the amounts above, that 50g of rice/250ml stock per person is about right, give or take 50 or 100ml in total so, for two portions you need 100g of rice/500ml of stock, for four 200g/1000ml etc. You may find that the rice is ready before you use all the stock or that you need more liquid; in the latter case use some boiling hot water if you haven’t got any more stock.
Having tried all three methods, I think baking is the simplest, but not the tastiest, and I’m happy with the compromise of half of the stock in at once if it means I shave off 20 minutes of effort and time. Beyond that, the only other thing to remember is that a good dose of cheese and butter at the end, regardless of method, is non-negotiable; a skinny risotto is an oxymoron.
Squash and sage risotto (adapted from Riverford Farm Cook Book)
Tips to remember when making this:
- save on the washing up by making the sage butter in the same pan that you will use for the risotto.
- the Riverford recipe suggests making a cheap and thrifty stock by putting the fibrous seedy centre bits of the squash (that you normally throw away) into a saucepan, covering them with water, bringing them to the boil and then simmering for 30 minutes. Genius!
- if, like me, you are making a small amount and you have half a butternut squash left, cut it up and roast it at the same time anyway, perhaps in a different pan if you don’t want to lose sight of the quantity; once roasted it will make a good salad with some feta, thyme and caramelised onions (or pomegranate seeds) or a perfect base for a squash soup.
For two good portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil, 1 tablespoon
pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
arborio or carnaroli rice, 100g
butternut squash, 500g (about 350g once peeled and deseeded)
white wine, manzanilla or vermouth, half a small wine glass
Parmesan cheese about 50g
sage leaves, a handful
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6.
2. Peel and deseed the squash. Put the squash seeds and fibres (all the stuff that you find in the hollow inside the flesh but not the peel) into a saucepan, cover with 500ml of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes. Then strain, return it to the same pan and keep hot.
3. Meanwhile, cut the flesh up into small dice and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a roasting tin. Roast for 20-30 minutes until just tender and starting to take a little colour.
4. Put 25g of the butter into a large saucepan (with a lid) and melt over a medium heat. Rinse the sage leaves and add to the butter. Cook gently until both the butter and the leaves start to brown (the sage will crisp up a little) then tip out of the saucepan and leave to one side.
5. Peel and chop the onion finely then add another 25g of butter to the sage saucepan. Once melted add the onion and cook for about five minutes until just soft.
6. Add the rice to the onion and stir to coat it in butter. Pour in the wine and stir until the liquid evaporates.
7. Now add half the roasted squash and half the stock to the rice, stir once and leave to simmer and bubble for 10-15 minutes.
8. Whilst you’re waiting, grate the cheese.
9. Add the rest of the stock a large spoonful at a time, stirring after each addition until incorporated. At this stage keep testing it every so often, to test whether the rice is done (it should no longer be chalky and hard, nor soggy, but only you can judge what ‘done’ means to your tastebuds).
9. Once the rice is done, take off the heat, stir in the rest of the squash, the last 25g of butter and all of the cheese. Cover and leave for five minutes.
10. Season if necessary and serve with the crispy sage butter.