A lot of people think that risotto is terribly difficult to make. But like most things that are commonly viewed as difficult, risotto is surprisingly easy. It does require patience and a lot of attention: turn your back for a moment and it could be ruined. But risotto is one of those dishes that is as comforting to cook as it is to eat. Rich, creamy and sensual, and you can definitely taste how much care has been put into the preparation.
The most important ingredient in any risotto is the stock, and here you can’t get away with using a stock cube as you so often can. The rice is cooked entirely in the stock and it will soak up the flavor, and stock cubes are notoriously lacking in real, wholesome flavor. That said, there are some options available if you haven’t made your own stock, and these include the concentrated jellies that you can buy, as well as ready-made stocks.
A note on stock: it is surprisingly easy to make. I use a lot of chicken stock, and I keep a bag of chicken bones in the freezer and keep adding to it. With planning, you can make your stock in advance (say, the night before) and keep it in the fridge, ready to use.
You can add anything you like to your risotto. It’s simply a base of arborio rice and onion cooked in stock, with whatever you fancy added at the end. In my mind, peas are mandatory, but it really is up to you!
Pea Risotto with Chicken, Pancetta and Cep Mushrooms
300 g arborio rice
700 ml home-made chicken stock, heated
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 chicken thigh fillets, skin off
200 g cubetti de pancetta
1 small packet dried cep mushrooms
A handful of frozen peas
2 glasses white wine
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp groundnut oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning
Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over a high heat and quickly seal the chicken thigh fillets on each side. You don’t want to brown them, just seal them so they don’t fall apart. Add one glass of the wine and enough stock to cover the chicken, together with the bay leaf and the rosemary. Lightly season with a little salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and turn the heat right down, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.
While the chicken is cooking, soak the mushrooms. Put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water and leave to stand for ten minutes. Once the chicken thigh fillets are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, but retain the liquor, and reduce it to about 100 ml. Cut the chicken into small pieces.
In another large frying pan or saucepan, cook the pancetta over a high heat. There is enough fat in the pancetta, so you will not need to use any oil. transfer the pancetta to a plate and add 1 tbsp of the butter and 1 tbsp of the oil to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Fry the soaked mushrooms for a few minutes until they are cooked, and transfer them to the plate to join the pancetta and the cooked chicken.
Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan and turn the heat down to low. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Turn the heat back up to high and add the arborio rice, turning it over in the buttery juices. Toast it for two minutes or so, but don’t let it brown, then pour in the other glass of wine, and start stirring.
The trick now is to make sure the liquid is fully absorbed before adding any more. Rush, and you’ll end with soup. Once the wine has been absorbed, add the reduced liquor that the chicken was cooked in and turn down the heat a little. Keep stirring constantly. Again, allow the liquid to absorb fully, and you can start adding the hot stock. Add the stock a ladle-by-ladle and make sure to keep stirring. You don’t need to wait for the liquid to be absorbed completely, but you should wait until your spoon leaves a clear wake behind it before adding the next ladleful. It should take about 20 minutes to add all the stock.
By this time the risotto should be of a creamy consistency, and you can stir in the cooked chicken, pancetta and mushrooms. Season well and dot a few knobs of butter over the top before covering with a lid, or kitchen foil. Leave it to stand for five minutes to allow the flavors to intensify. Stir in the frozen peas (no need to cook them first) and allow to stand for another minute or so to allow the peas to warm through.
Serve immediately with a grating of Parmesan cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper.