Risotto is one of my all time favourite dinners. This summer, I’ve been going gluten free for past few months, as an experiment, and I’m REALLY missing my pasta at the moment! So instead, I’ve been having risotto at least once a week. Albeit with slightly different ingredients and flavours, but usually revolving around a base of onions, celery, white wine, chicken stock, parmesan (or in this case pecorino) and whatever kind of veggies I have in my fridge. It’s such a simple meal and so satisfying and full of favour. Like a warm hug in a bowl!
It’s starchy enough to keep you happy but these flavours are light and summery. To be honest, I’d eat this at any time of the year! I’ve made enough for 4 portions below, with the intention of turning half of it into amazingly delicious Arancini or crispy gooey risotto balls, the recipe for which you can find here.
One thing that always annoys me with risotto recipes is the idea that you can cook the whole thing in 20 minutes. That’s just not true! While it is still a very quick and simple dinner, it will probably take you about 35 to 40 minutes altogether. Prepping is key. Get your veg chopped, and your other ingredients weighed and measured, and then you’re good to go. I’ve stipulated about 2 litres of stock here, but you may need more liquid, so keep a recently boiled kettle handy just in case. Watch the salt levels too, as the parma ham, pecorino and chicken stock cubes are all quite salty. So don’t add any actual salt without tasting it first! If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan is just as good. You can easily make this a vegetarian risotto too, just take out the parma ham, use vegetable stock and substitute your preferred vegetarian cheese. You can also add as many other veggies as you like. I personally love baby spinach or swiss chard but finely shredded kale would work well here too.
I found pecorino in Tesco last year but couldn’t find it this time, so I went to Fallon & Byrne, who have the best cheese counter ever. As for the parma ham, it adds a lovely wafer thin crispiness, but pancetta or good quality smoky bacon will work equally well. Frozen petit pois are super handy to throw in and work so well in dishes like this. Risotto rice is easy to come by now in most supermarkets, usually either Arborio or Carnaroli. If you don’t want to use white wine, dry vermouth works well, or you can leave out the wine altogether and just add a little extra stock. Use a wooden spoon or spatula when making risotto as a metal one will break the rice grains. Be patient and be prepared not to leave the stove whilst you’re making it! And serve immediately – it will start to dry up and go claggy in no time! If you do find you have any leftovers, don’t forget my Arancini recipe is over here!
400g risotto rice
1 tbsp olive oil
90g parma ham
1 small red or white onion
1-2 sticks celery
200g frozen peas – petit pois ideally
2 organic chicken stock cubes
2 litres approx boiling water
100ml dry white wine or vermouth
zest of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
sprig of mint
In a large pot, bring the water to the boil and dissolve the 2 stock cubes. Leave to simmer, ready for ladling into the risotto. Peel and finely chop the onion and celery. Chop the parma ham into small pieces.
In a wide, heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil and fry the parma ham until crispy over medium high heat. Remove about a third of it to a dish. Add half the butter to the pan.
Add the chopped onion and celery and sweat for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir well with the wooden spoon for a few minutes to coat it well. Add the wine and let it bubble up for about a minute.
Begin ladling in the hot stock, one ladleful at a time. Let it bubble up and stir well each time, allowing the liquid to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next ladleful. Continue this way for about 15 minutes until the rice is starting to swell and soften and release all of the creamy starch. Add the frozen peas and stir well. Continue adding the stock and stirring patiently.
This whole process can take between 20 and 30 minutes, so don’t lose faith. Keep checking the rice to see if it’s tender. Stop before it’s completely soft, you want it to still keep its shape.
When it’s tender but still has a little bite, it’s ready to serve. Add most of the grated pecorino and the rest of the butter and stir gently, letting it melt, adding more stock if necessary to keep it loose. Add plenty of black pepper. Shave half of the lemon zest in.
Serve immediately on warmed plates with the rest of the crispy parma ham, a sprinkling of lemon zest, more black pepper and plenty of grated pecorino.
Most importantly, enjoy!