The Musette: Spring vegetable risotto

Unusually this year, the Giro d’Italia takes its bow in Brescia rather than Milan, although both are in Lombardy where rice is grown on the flat flooded plains and used in well-known dishes such as risotto. I often cook this recipe in spring after a morning’s ride, as it showcases fresh green seasonal vegetables and it’s quicker to cook than you might think – providing, of course, you prepare most of it beforehand: either the night before or just before you ride.

At least two of your five a day

At least two of your five a day

Ingredients (serves four)

  • 300g  (2 cups) carnaroli or arborio rice (risotto rice)
  • 100g (4oz)  chunk parmesan
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives, finely snipped
  • 150g (5oz) shelled broad beans (about 600g (21oz) in their pods)
  • 150g (50z) asparagus spears (green and white)
  • 200g (7oz) shelled small peas (about 800g (2lbs) in their pods)
  • 1 small bulb of fennel, core removed and finely chopped
  • Handful of fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable stock powder
  • 3 large spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra virgin olive oil to serve
  • 50g (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 125ml (½ cup) dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche or mascarpone

Method: Pre-ride preparation steps 1-6, post-ride steps 7-11

1. Tip the rice into a saucepan of boiling, lightly salted water. Boil gently for six minutes then drain in a sieve. There should still be a white core in the centre of the grain. Spread the part-cooked rice on a clean tray, cool, then chill in the fridge. Covered with cling film, the rice will keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours. (Thanks to Gordon Ramsey for this handy tip.)

2. Cut about 40g (1½oz) off the chunk of parmesan and set aside for parmesan shavings to decorate the finished dish in step 11. Finely grate the rest (I use my food processor) and save for use later in step ten.

3. Blanch the broad beans for one minute in boiling water, then drain and rinse them in a colander under cold water. Using your fingers, pop each bean from its skin. You don’t need to do this if they’re very small. Thawed frozen or canned beans can be popped without blanching.

4. Peel the spears of white asparagus, snap off the woody ends, trim both varieties and cut the spears into  approx 3 cm (1-inch) lozenge pieces. Bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large saucepan, add 1 tsp of fine sea salt, then add the asparagus, shelled peas and beans. Return to a gentle boil and cook for three minutes. Meanwhile, put lots of ice cubes into a large bowl half-filled with cold water. Note, if you’re using frozen peas and beans, they won’t need to be blanched.

5. Drain the vegetables in a colander set over a bowl to catch and save the cooking water, then tip them straight into the bowl of iced water. When cold, drain again and set aside.

6. Pour the saved vegetable water into a jug, cool and store in the fridge.

7. Take the saved vegetable water from the fridge, make up to a litre with water, pour it into a pan, whisk in the vegetable stock powder, bring it to the boil and then turn it down to a simmer.

8. In another large saucepan, gently sauté the spring onions and fennel in the oil and half the butter for 5-8 minutes until softened. Stir in the wine and cook until reduced by half.

9. Tip in the rice and add a ladle of hot stock, stirring gently until it’s absorbed. Add the remaining stock, a ladle at a time, always stirring until it’s absorbed before adding any more. This takes about 15-20 minutes. The mixture should be slightly runny, not dry. You may not need all the stock. Test the rice. It’s cooked when it is just softened and has a nice shiny glaze.

10. Gently stir in the peas, beans and asparagus and return to a gentle simmer, adding a little extra stock if necessary. Stir in the last of the butter, the grated parmesan and the mascarpone or creme fraiche. Taste to check the seasoning, adding more if necessary.

11. Take the saucepan off the heat, fold in the fresh baby spinach leaves, divide immediately between four warm shallow bowls, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil, and scatter the parmesan shavings and snipped chives onto each serving.

I'm sure the Italians would approve

I’m sure the Italians would approve

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Both the carnaroli and the arborio rice varieties are good, but carnaroli – which I always use – is more robust. The starch in this rice gives creaminess to the dish yet the core of the rice grain remains al dente. Cook it gently, not in rapidly boiling water, or the rice may go mushy.

2. When adding the stock to the rice add only a ladle at a time to moisten. Don’t flood the rice or it will burst and go watery. Also, keeping the stock at the same temperature as the rice means it will be absorbed more quickly.

3. Making a classic risotto from scratch can take up to 40 minutes. By blanching the rice beforehand and spreading it out to chill, you can halve the cooking time later on and still produce a freshly cooked risotto.

4. Blanching the vegetables and then plunging them into iced water stops them overcooking, keeps their colours vibrant and their texture crisp. The vegetables only need a quick reheating just before serving.

5. I haven’t used any garlic in this recipe because I want the clean fresh taste of the vegetables to shine through. I do sometimes add a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest to give it an extra zing.

6. Never, ever use bought pre-grated parmesan cheese. Always buy your cheese in chunks and grate and shave it yourself. I save the parmesan rinds in the freezer for livening up home-made soups.

7. I’ve used chives in the recipe but you could just as easily use flat Italian parsley or even fresh basil.

8. Risotto is also great for using up left-overs. Feel free to experiment with ingredients you know go well together.

(Images: Sheree)

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