Meditative cuisine

Risotto with sundried tomatoes and bacon

Whilst I love Italian food, risotto is  something I haven’t been able to enjoy, ever (a hyperbole since I have had this  dish 3 or maybe 4 times in my 30 years). The first time I had it I had to contend with a gooey mass of cheese and rice, which honestly looked like sick on a plate. A few years later, I overcame my revulsion and gave this Italian classic another shot- had to.  A dear dear friend had made it for lunch at her place and I am nothing if not supportive of my friends’ endeavours. Even if it meant gulping down stuff I wouldn’t normally eat. However, sampling her risotto did some good. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I loved it but I liked it enough to have more than two spoonfuls.

I then wondered if the secret lay in cooking it yourself- I was encouraged to try my hand at making it. Other than my friend’s successful dish I was inspired to make an attempt after I saw Anthony Hopkinson lovingly cook up a batch in an episode of The Good Cook. The method used seemed simple but one that required immense patience (which made this dish an even bigger challenge for me). And to be honest it seemed quite tasty even on screen.

So one day (and it was a few months ago) I decided to put this notion to test, hoping to get over my aversion to risotto once and for all. Unfortunately the experiment fell flat. One morsel is all it took for me to realise what was putting me off- the texture of the dish as well as that of the rice, it was all too starchy for my liking. I should add though that the dish was quite flavourful and I must have done something right since the husband managed to polish off his share and mine.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy cooking the dish and that is the reason this recipe and method finds its place on the blog. The process of  adding stock bit by bit and stirring patiently had quite a calming effect on me. Being a big fan of meditation and “being present”, I can say cooking risotto is a good way to practice the philosophy! So even though my palate refused to make peace with the rice, I am glad I made this dish, even if it was only to enjoy the whole routine. Though I made a few additions (and substitutions) of my own, like adding sundried tomatoes and bacon and using arborio rice, my inspiration was Hopkinson’s original.  I am sharing the recipe below in case you decide to try your hand at it .

Recipe source: Simon Hopkinson’s Risotto alla Parmigianna

Ingredients:

  • 75g/3oz unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 125ml/4fl oz vermouth
  • 200g/8oz carnaroli rice
  • 400-450ml/14-16fl oz lightly flavoured chicken stock
  • 3-4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper

Method

  • Heat 40g/1½oz of the butter in a deep, heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until softened, but not coloured.
  • Meanwhile heat the stock in a separate saucepan. Add the vermouth to the onions, turn up the heat and reduce until almost evaporated.
  • Add the rice and, stirring vigorously using a sturdy wooden spoon, allow the rice to become shiny with butter before adding a ladle of hot stock. Continuing to stir vigorously and let the rice absorb the stock before adding another ladleful.
  • Remove the risotto from the heat when the rice is becoming tender, but is still sloppy and dropping consistency. Cover with a lid and set aside for three minutes.
  • Stir in two tablespoons of cheese and the remaining butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper and vigorously beat the rice with a wooden spoon until slick and glossy; it should easily fall back on itself when lifted.
  • Spoon onto hot plates and take extra parmesan to the dinner table.
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