A good risotto is a glorious dish, easy to make but hard to perfect and just the kind of comfort food you need on a chilly winter's night. Many debates range regarding how wet a risotto should be, and you do see regional variations throughout Italy. However, I always prefer mine to be very wet, the rice almost pooling onto the very edges of my plate. I am also drawn to simple versions made with fewer ingredients. This recipe focuses on zesty lemon partnered with the earthy flavour of nettles, and spiced with a good hit of black pepper.
- 10-litre bucket unpicked nettles
- 1.5 litres chicken stock
- 2 small brown onions, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- olive oil, for cooking
- 300 g carnaroli rice
- 150 ml white wine
- finely grated zest of 2 large lemons, half a lemon kept for a little squeeze of juice
- 100 g finely grated parmesan
- 60 g unsalted butter
- finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
- good olive oil, to serve
- river salt and black pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Firstly, the nettles need to be dealt with. Make sure you wear gloves before approaching them, because, as the name suggests, they really do sting. Pick off the buds and leaves directly into a bowl and discard the stems.
Have a large pot of boiling salted water on the go, ready for nettle blanching. Use a pair of tongs to immerse the nettles in the water. Blanch them briefly, for 10 seconds or so before draining them and refreshing in iced water. Once cooled, drain and squeeze out as much excess water as you can. You should be left with about 1 cup worth of blanched green nettles, that may or may not feel a little slimly. Roughly chop and then set aside.
Have your stock gently simmering in a medium pan.
Place a wide-based pan on a medium heat and allow it to warm before adding a healthy splash of olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and some seasoning, stir, cooking gently for about 5 minutes or until nicely softened. Beware though, you do not want your onion mix to brown at all or catch on the pan. Gently is the key.
Add the rice and stir, making sure all the grains become nicely coated in oil. Take a little time here, but do make sure your rice doesn’t start to stick to the pan. Add the wine and continue stirring for a few minutes, or until it has almost completely evaporated.
At this stage, it becomes just a matter of slowly adding the stock ladleful by ladleful, stirring and allowing the liquid to evaporate before each new bit of liquid is added. I find this can be a pleasant, meditative and soothing task.
Continue in this manner for about 20 minutes or so, at which stage your risotto should be very nearly ready. Add the nettles and stir through.
Now, this is when you need to be on high alert, keep tasting your risotto until you reach the perfect stage where the rice grains are deliciously creamy, yet still have a nice bite to them. You want to reach this stage when your risotto is looking a nice distance between dry and very wet.
Sprinkle in the lemon zest and stir, before adding a final large ladleful of stock, the butter and the grated parmesan. Cover your pot with a lid and set aside in a warm spot to have a rest for about 5 minutes.
Gather 4 nice shallow dishes to serve in and make sure they are nicely warmed.
Lift the lid, admire the lemony aroma, give it a final mix and check your consistency and seasoning. You may or may not need a little extra stock and you will certainly need to add lots of extra black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. You want a nice lemony tang and a noticeable hit of pepper.
Divide the risotto among the 4 bowls, drizzle with a little extra oil, sprinkle with some of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and then serve immediately.
• Most commercial lemons are waxed, which gives the skin an appealing shine, but isn’t so great when it comes to using the zest. Always give them a wash with warm water and a slight scrub to remove the outer waxy coating.
• When making risotto, I prefer using carnaroli rice, which has a light, almost nutty flavour. Another good rice to use is vialone nano, however the more common, and usually cheaper, aborio rice works just as well.
• Nettles can be hard to find. Foraging for them works well, as does finding a friendly farmer or even a good vegetable market. Do your best to find some, as there isn’t really any good substitute.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Suresh Watson. Borge Mogensen Spanish chair, from Great Dane Furnture. Tapas coffee cup in indigo from Country Road. Gordon Ramsay pasta bowl 24 cm from Royal Doulton. Kay Bojesen fork from Great Dane Furniture.