Sunday, 27 March 2011

When life hands you lemons...

... make lemon risotto.

My friend Anne gave me this gorgeous specimen, sent from the garden of her parents' home in the south of France. Beautiful, perfectly uniformly sunshine yellow with a shiny, subtly dimpled skin, you could smell it from a mile away. I felt privileged to have been gifted with one of these beauties, so I really wanted to do it justice. I wanted something that would use both the zest and the juice, and that would make a really special Saturday night dinner for Dear Husband and self, perhaps as an accompaniment to some fish.

In the end, I decided on a lemon risotto. Unctuous, oozing rice with an assertive-without-being-strident citrus tang. 

Now, here’s the thing. You’re probably much cleverer than me, but I didn’t ever really ‘get’ risotto until I was actually shown how to do it. Not that it’s hard! I just needed substantially reprogramming away from my Mum’s (fabulous, but different) ‘savoury rice’. And I’m no Pioneer Woman. My food photography, frankly, sucks.  So if this recipe doesn’t help, will you just come over and I’ll show you? Bring lemons.

Lemon risotto, serves 4, as a side dish, 2 as a more substantial main course

1 medium onion, finely chopped
50g butter
200g risotto rice
zest and juice of one (gorgeous) lemon
1 small glass wine
750ml chicken (or vegetable) stock (you may not need it all)
50g parmesan, grated

Melt half of the butter in a heavy, lidded saucepan. Add the onions and stir over a gentle heat until they almost seem to melt into the butter and they give off a sweet aroma.

Meanwhile, heat the stock on the stove and keep it at a gentle simmer.

Add the rice to the pan with the onions and stir well, preferably using a squared-off wooden spoon or spatula. Once all the butter has been absorbed and the rice is starting to get hot, add the finely grated lemon zest and the wine. Stir until all the wine has been absorbed, being sure to scrape the rice down from the sides, then add the stock, a ladleful at a time. Stir in between each addition (you’re breaking up the starch in the rice and giving the risotto its creamy consistency) and don’t add more liquid until the spatula leaves a substantial ‘trail’ on the bottom of the pan.

After the fourth ladleful has been added and absorbed, start testing the rice for done-ness. You’re aiming for rice with a slight ‘bite’ to it, within the context of a creamy-textured whole. When you think you’ve achieved this, turn off the heat and add the remaining butter, the lemon juice and the parmesan, and give the whole thing a really thorough stir (verging on actually beating it). Then, put a lid on it and let it sit with itself for a few minutes until you are ready to serve and enjoy.

While most risotti (apart from risotto Milanese which is served alongside osso buco) are meant to be served by themselves, I think this makes a great side dish. Seared scallops, salmon, or even griddled chicken breasts would pair with this nicely, perhaps with some steamed purple sprouting broccoli on the side.

Family friendliness rating: Well, it’s lovely soft, oozy rice, with a gentle, soothing flavour. Surely, surely, anybody would like this? You’d think, wouldn’t you. Having said that, though, the point is slightly moot if your family is of the apron-tugging, come-and-play persuasion (really, how dare they?). This dish does need a patient hand and doesn’t allow for distractions, once you’ve started to add the stock.

Cleanup rating: Well, OK. Two pans, though.

Can I freeze it? No. For ease, though, I do sometimes prepare a risotto up to the point at which I’m about to start adding the stock, then turn the heat off and complete the preparation when it's nearly time to eat.

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