I grew up disliking rice. It was something you served when you ran out of potatoes, or ate with Chinese food, to soak up the grease of your sweet and sour pork. However, my first encounter with risotto in Italy made me a convert. I adore anything creamy, and the plump arborio was a far cry from the dry, tasteless grains the ladies in my family liked to mix with carrots and peas and serve alongside roasted chicken.
I’m the sort of traveler that remembers every half-decent meal I’ve had in any town not my own. Is it the atmosphere, the exotic and unfamiliar surroundings, that heighten my experience of it? A crusty baguette eaten at a sidewalk cafe in Paris becomes the best bread I’ve ever had. Pasta twirled on a fork at restaurant in Florence becomes the best spaghetti bolognese I’ve eaten. Every repast is wrapped in hyperbole.
What I do know it this; every risotto dish I’ve had outside of Italy has been a poor relation to the risotto I’ve had inside it. I often wonder why. It’s not difficult to make. It’s nothing but a dish of rice cooked in stock and embellished with a bit of butter and cheese, yet the risotto I’ve eaten at many a restaurant has been anything but inspired. Often it’s soupy. Or unspeakably bland. Not only that, it’s a dish that costs pennies to make at home and is not worth what a lot of eateries charge for it.
When I want risotto, I make it myself. It takes a bit of time, a bit of stirring, but the results are always elegant. Plus, you can dress up risotto hundreds of ways. Or you can serve it plain, with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Add a couple of seared scallops on top and you have a main course for a dinner party that is sure to impress.
This recipe is from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book I. The lemon rind adds a little tartness to the sharp, full flavor of the cheese. Give yourself about half an hour to cook the risotto and serve immediately; risotto becomes gummy as it cools. It’s best eaten fresh, so forget leftovers!
Lemon and Parmesan Risotto
adapted from Donna Hay
20g (3/4 oz) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
5 1/2 cups (2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups arborio rice
3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
20g (3/4 oz) butter, extra
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1) Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, oil, and onions; cook for 6-8 minutes or until soft and golden.
2) Place the stock in a separate saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer.
3) Add the rice and lemon rind to the onion mixture and stir for 2 minutes, or until the rice is translucent.
4) Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until each cup of stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente. This should take 25-30 minutes.
5) Stir through extra butter, Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately