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Perfectly pure risotto

Mirror mirror on the wall, which is the fairest risotto of them all?

That would be this week’s recipe for risotto al Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It’s as simple as it comes. Very few ingredients (basically rice and cheese) + a bit of cooking technique = a wonderfully moreish and comforting dish.

This week’s album

2014 Forest Hills Drive

There’s a lot of J.Cole material to choose from, but this is my preferred album to listen to in its entirety. It’s his third studio album - the name referring to his childhood address in North Carolina - and the one that helped him assert himself as a great artist, mainly because it features no other artists, only him.

Off to northern Italy we go...

This dish celebrates rice, obvs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Instead of using a stock to cook the rice, which masks its flavour, we’re going to use water. For that reason it’s important to get best-quality rice and genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano.

What’s the difference between that and parmesan I don’t hear you mutter? Parmesan is a fraud. Let me explain…

Parmigiano-reggiano is a parmesan made from only three ingredients under the strictest of conditions in a 10,000km2 region in northern Italy. It’s heralded for its taste, texture, and nutrition (it contains very high levels of calcium, amino acids, protein and Vitamin A).

Parmigiano-reggiano is described as the ‘King of cheeses’. Presumably by someone who makes it for a living…

Parmigiano-reggiano is wonderfully unique being salty, sweet, grassy, nutty and rich all at once. The very Boris Johnson of cheeses.

This dish aims to celebrate all of those tastes and, if you can find it, Parmigiano-Reggiano which has been aged for 18 months would be ideal. We’ll also use some wine and vinegar to provide acidity and accentuate the rich flavour of the cheese and rice.

In the steps below I’ve tried to give you all the techniques you’ll need to produce the best results. We’ll use more butter than is usually required to finish a risotto, but this dish isn’t served in vast quantities so don’t worry too much. You can always reduce the amount if needed, but I wouldn’t. Consider it a treat and remember: butter is delicious. Just try to use high-quality stuff.

This risotto is delicious on its own and can be eaten as is. However, I’m adding some Prosciutto di Parma to continue the celebration of northern Italy and add even more flavour.

What you need

The below serves 2. It takes 5 mins to prep and 25 mins to cook.


140g risotto rice (carnaroli, arborio, or vialone nano)

25g/ml white wine

60g butter (cubed & chilled)

50g Parmigiano-Reggiano (finely grated)

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tbsp white wine vinegar

Sea salt & black pepper

4-6 slices Parma ham, speck, or similar (optional)

Ready, steady, cook

1. Place a small pan of water (about 1 litre) onto a medium-high heat. We’ll use this water to cook the rice.

2. Add a separate small pan to a medium-high heat and add 2 tbsps of olive oil. When hot, add the rice and begin to toast it quite quickly, stirring regularly for a couple of mins using a wooden spoon.

NOTE: the best way to check whether the rice is toasted enough is to feel a grain in between your fingers. It should be a temperature that’s just becoming too hot to touch.

3. Add the white wine and leave to cook until the wine appears to have completely evaporated / been absorbed by the rice. This is the first stage at which starch begins to be released from the rice. This is key to making a nice ‘creamy’ risotto as it helps to create an emulsion when we add the butter and Parmesan later.

4. A ladle at a time, start to add the hot water from step one. The water should just cover the rice. Scrape down the side of the pan to collect any stray grains, then leave to cook for a few mins. Check your temperature so that everything’s at a simmer and not boiling.

NOTE: adding a ladle of water at a time helps us to release as much starch as possible. Adding large amounts would boil the rice, cook it too quickly, and so not give us the starch we want.

5. After the first few mins of cooking with water, add a good pinch of salt.

6. Continue to add the hot water a ladle at a time. Then start to stir the rice intermittently, being careful not to be too rough and break up the grains. The rice will take about 20 mins to cook, but use the instructions on the packet as a guide.

TIP: add the water around the inside of the pan to help collect any of the starchy liquid that’s being created.

7. Throughout the cooking process you need to check the rice for its state of cooking. 

To do this, remove a grain and squash it between your fingers. The more it cooks the easier it will be to squash and on the inside you’ll notice an inner part to the grain that’s bright white. Early on this internal part will break into two pieces. As you continue to cook it will start to break into three pieces and eventually four. When it does that, your rice is almost ready and will have a nice bite to it.

NOTE: take care not to overcook! If no white remains in the inner part then your finished risotto will lack bite and texture.

8. When you’re happy (FYI - risotto should be served noticeably liquid-y so you should be able to create a ‘wave’ of risotto if you toss the pan), remove the rice from the heat and let it stand for a minute or so.

Now we’ll add the 'fatty' parts which will create an emulsion with the starchy liquid you’ve created. Removing the rice from the heat is important as if the risotto is too hot it can cause the butter to ‘split’ (making it impossible to make an emulsion) and the parmesan to become grainy.

9. To create the emulsion, dot around the pieces of butter. Then either stir fairly vigorously with a wooden spoon, or toss the pan until it has all melted and is incorporated into the risotto.

Now add the grated parmesan, some fresh black pepper, the remaining olive oil, and white wine vinegar. Again, either stir or toss. You need to stir/toss for about a minute to create a deliciously creamy risotto.

10. Assess the consistency, adding any more water if needed, and check seasoning. When happy, serve immediately on hot plates and finish with the cured ham.

Final thought

A risotto should never be so dry that it ‘stands up’ on the plate. Instead, it should melt into it and be flat. That’s what you’re aiming for anyways.

Want some other risotto recipes? Try risotto al Barolo (red wine) or risotto alla Milanese (saffron).

Enjoy your cooking. Same time next week,


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