Sunday, 11 November 2012

Spring Risotto

I somehow managed to get through the first 28-odd years of my life without approaching a risotto pan.  My friend, the best MC, was appalled at this state of affairs, and promptly set about instructing me on the wonderful chemistry of olive oil, onion, wine, rice, stock and parmesan cheese – and all the infinite variants that go with them.  I've spent a fair few evenings since then practicing my risotto technique – nicely assisted by the rule of "one spoonful of stock for the risotto, one sip of wine for the cook".

Last weekend we had the Hunter-Gatherers joining us for dinner, and a risotto seemed like the perfect way to spend time in the kitchen together.

Chicken and Asparagus Risotto
Serves 4

4 chicken thighs, roughly chopped into chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
olive oil
25g butter
1 cup arborio rice
½-1 cup white wine
1 litre chicken stock (or more)
1 bunch thin-medium asparagus, chopped into inch-long lengths
½ capiscum, diced
juice of 1 lemon
handful or two of freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Lightly brown the chicken in a little olive oil while you bring the chicken stock to the boil.  Once boiled, turn the stock down to simmer.  When the chicken is browned, remove from the pan and drain off any excess fat. 
Add the butter and gently saute the onion until soft and translucent, but not browned.  Add the garlic and saute until the smell hits you.  Add the rice and saute gently for 2-3 minutes, taking care that the rice doesn't stick or brown.  Add some more olive oil if you need it.  When the rice is glossy and warmed through, pour in enough wine to reach the top of the rice and allow to bubble vigorously.
Now it's time for the slow dance of adding stock, stirring and sipping.  At this point, you need to adjust the heat to keep a bubbling simmer that will keep the rice absorbing the stock, without being so vigorous that the stock evaporates away without a chance to absorb into the rice.  Too slow and you'll have taken in far too much wine...

Add about ½ a cup of stock at a time, or enough to just cover the rice, stir, and allow to absorb until the top layer of rice is clear of stock.  Stir, and if the stock is mostly absorbed, add the next ladle – you don't want the risotto to dry out at any stage.  This stage can take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, depending on quantities and the attention span of this cook.
When the rice is nearly done, it will still have some "bite", but not be chalky.  Add the asparagus, capsicum, chicken and lemon (and possibly another ladle of stock as the risotto will keep absorbing liquid and I like my risotto to be quite creamy rather than solid).  As soon as the asparagus hits bright green, stir through the parmesan, and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  I usually find that it doesn't need salt.
Serve immediately in warm bowls with a wedge of lemon, a sprinkle of parmesan, a spoonful of pesto and a green salad.
Gratuitous photo of happy cat on Mrs H-G's knee...

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