Risotto is one of my favourite things to make. Not only is it delicious and relatively foolproof, but it’s also improbably impressive. Announce to a group of friends that you’re making risotto for dinner and someone is bound to gaze at you in wide-eyed incredulity, regarding this as some kind of domestic tour de force.
These are the people who wouldn’t attempt to make risotto at home. They think of this rib-sticking dish as belonging high on the culinary pedestal, and something only somebody’s Italian mother or a trained chef should attempt. I know this because I used to be one of those people. I was convinced that risotto was fiddly and laborious, and if I stopped stirring for just one second the whole thing would end up ruined. Where I got this idea I’m not sure, but if you’re still thinking along those lines, I’m here to set you straight. Risotto is a piece of cake.
Besides the fact that it’s simple and even quick to make, but there’s another reason this Italian staple should be on every home cook’s roster: its versatility. Once you’ve got the basic technique down, you’re limited only by your imagination. Don’t feel like you have to stick to the tried-and-true classics because almost everything tastes fantastic in risotto. I routinely use it as a vehicle for leftover bits of this and that from the fridge, as well as for experimenting with flavour combinations.
Case in point, this broccoli and cheddar version, which I made the other day for a quick and comforting lunch. The cheddar seems a little far-fetched at first, I’ll admit, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Consider the classic down-home pairing of broccoli, cheese and pasta, and think of this as its sophisticated cousin. It’s not by any means a healthy risotto (and yes, they do exist), as the handfuls of cheese and finishing touch of cream make it quite rich. Rich, but oh so delicious.
Besides, don’t you want to see the looks on your coworkers’ faces when you bring the leftovers to work for lunch?
Broccoli & Cheddar Risotto
- 1 small head broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
- 1-litre vegetable stock
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1/2 a large white onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
- 250g arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
- 75g strong white cheddar, grated
- 15g parmesan, grated
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbs. cream (optional)
- Put a saucepan of water on to boil and put the broccoli florets in a vegetable steamer on top. Steam the florets for 3-4 minutes until tender-crisp. At this point, remove half of them and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
- Continue cooking the remaining broccoli for another 5-7 minutes, until very soft. Remove to a shallow bowl and mash to a rough pulp with a fork or potato masher. Set aside.
- Heat the stock in a small saucepan to almost boiling, then turn the heat down to very low. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice and cook for another minute, ensuring it gets evenly coated in the butter/oil. Then add the mashed broccoli and heat through briefly. Begin to add the stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each before you add the next. You should stir often but it doesn’t need to be continuous- just make sure nothing sticks to the bottom, and that you add the next ladle of stock before the risotto gets too dry. If you run out of stock, use hot water from the kettle.
- After 15 minutes of adding stock and stirring, add the steamed broccoli florets and continue. After 18 minutes (from the beginning, not since adding the broccoli), taste the risotto. It should be tender but with some bite/chew to it. If it isn’t ready, continue as you were for another 2-5 minutes.
- When the rice is cooked to your liking, turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses. Salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the cream if using. Serve immediately.