There’s nothing I love more than diving head-first into a deliciously creamy and rich risotto when the weather starts getting a little chilly. And this one combines caramelised leeks and a bunch of seasonal mushrooms to create a gooey texture packed full of sweet and umami flavours and then finished with toasted pine nuts for that crunch and earthy nutty notes that just brings the whole dish together.
You can top with your favourite vegan cheese for extra luxury and serve with a freshly toasted slice of ciabatta (rubbed with garlic cloves and olive oil) to soak up and transfer all those incredible flavours from bowl to mouth in one easy bite.
I love risotto. It’s one of those dishes that I would always order out because it’s such a time-consuming dish to make at home. But… it’s so worth the effort.
Unlike a lot of my longer cook dishes, this one needs a little more attention. My soups, stews and curries are able to bubble along without much attention, but risotto claims a little more of your time – and with good reason. By slowly adding the stock you are allowing the rice to soak up all those beautiful flavours and plump up to the perfect consistency. This slower method allows a better texture and flavour in your final dish. I’ve seen recipes floating around over the last few months for more “convenient” methods such as in a crock-pot or one-pan in the oven – but if you are really craving a risotto – you really can’t beat the classic.
There is said to be a few (eight, in fact) stages that must be followed in order to create said classic. Stock inclusion is the most well-known. ‘Cracking’ the rice is another. When you first add your rice to your pan, you want to do so on a heavy-bottom, dry pan. Add in your rice and stir around the pot to encourage each grain to be able to ‘crack’. This allows the grain to open up and allow for all of those delicious flavours from the wine and stock to be absorbed easily. You’ll be able to hear the grains crack almost immediately after adding, so give it a stir for a few minutes to get as many grains cracked without them starting to burn.
A ‘fat’ inclusion is another. Traditionally butter – or the technique of ‘buttering’ – or mantecare in French. Basically, this fundamental step comes from adding butter (or cream and/or grated cheese) into the risotto just before finishing to create that luxurious sought-after creaminess that risotto is renowned for. The fat in the dish melds together with the starchiness of the rice to create a combined creamy consistency within the sauce. This is why I recommend the vegan cheese but can be skipped if you so wish. The fats within olive oil can also help recreate something similar for vegan varieties.
I like to use a smoked vegan cheese in my risotto, but you can use any that you fancy (or have to hand) try and keep it as cold as possible before adding for the best results. If you’re still missing that really creamy sauce that you are craving, you can add silken tofu, soy milk or a plant-based yoghurt right at the end in replacement of your butter. Again, try and keep this as cold as possible before adding to help emulsify that sauce.
I always like to save some of my protein fillings to add on top. This is another classic technique that restaurants adopt. So, make sure to save some of your deliciously caramelised leeks and mushrooms to place on the top of your dish to really add some height, bulk and enticing goodness. Risotto, strangely, is also a great one to batch-cook, which most people are unaware of; making it an easier dish to incorporate into mid-week meals. Just bring your rice to just before it’s ready – the pre-al-dente stage and then spread on cold baking trays in a thin layer to cool down. You can then pop this in the fridge to then finish before serving. Just place in the pan with a splash of olive oil and your fat of choice and a final cup of stock. Bring to temperature, keep stirring until you’re at that ‘lava’ stage (where you drag your spoon through the pan to create a vertical line down the middle and the rice mixture slowly fills in the gap like lava – not fast like a wave, or too slow – but a nice consistent gooey journey back to the middle.) Finish by topping with your saved protein additions and some fresh herbs. I would also never recommend freezing risotto, especially those with mushrooms in, as the moisture can cause the texture to become over wet and cloggy – which will ruin all of that hard work in getting each creamy stage correct.
Got the risotto bug? Why not try these delicious variations: Roast Cherry Tomato and Thyme Risotto with Basil Pesto, Squash and Mushroom Pearl Barley Risotto with Truffle Oil and Toasted Hazelnuts or my Pesto Risotto with Mushrooms and Roast Tomatoes.
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