Friday, 18 April 2014

Artichoke risotto, risotto con carciofi

The first thing that  my Italian mother- in-law taught me how to cook was Risotto . 
She was from Tuscany where Risotto is not considered a typical dish at all. She had had to learn to make it herself, from her mother- in-law. To be able to make a good Risotto is a greatly admired skill here, a bit like being a good Pastry cook in Britain. The first recipe I mastered was  plain Risotto, the basis of all the others. First of all you put a saucepan of stock on to boil and leave it simmering. In another saucepan you gently fry a very finely chopped onion in some olive oil and a knob of butter. When it is soft and translucent you add a fistful of rice per person and stir well so all the rice is coated with the oil. Next add a good splash of white wine and stir until the alcohol has evaporated. Now you just keep on adding ladles of the hot stock and stirring until the rice is cooked . Turn off the heat .Check the seasoning, add a knob of butter and some grated Parmesan cheese , stir well , this is called mantecare and is important and put the lid on for two minutes. This method is guaranteed to make the perfect Risotto .I was hooked right from the start, it 's delicious, but my English stomach balked at this. All that time, all that effort, all that washing up , but no meat or vegetables in sight . The Risotto won. I make a Risotto at least three times a week now and it has always been a great way to make my children eat almost any vegetable. 
Risotto with artichokes and a glass of white wine make a great supper for friends It looks a bit lonely like this, like the man eating on his own at the end of  2001 a space Odyssey
Artichokes in a vase, vegetables like flowers

Risotto is a dish that you can only make if you know what time everyone will be ready to sit down. It can't be made in advance and it won't hang around. If you are invited to an Italian friend's house for dinner and they are cooking Risotto they will likely say' to you 'Fammi uno squillo quando parti e butto giu il riso. This means that you give them a ring as you are leaving home to go to their house and only then  will they put the rice on to cook. You will enter their house to be greeted by tantalising aromas and the host or hostess hovering around the stove, busy tasting and testing so the Risotto is cooked to perfezione. 
 Whenever I make Risotto I feel a bit like the conductor of an orchestra. Standing in front of the saucepans brandishing my wooden spoon, deciding what goes in, and in which order, and hopefully bringing the whole performance to a delightfully harmonious grand finale. Perfect Risotto, people sitting down on time and the pleasure of having created a masterpiece  that you know will be appreciated. My con-suocera, this is an Italian word that has no equivalent in English, it means your  son or daughter's mother-in-law, makes the most delicious Artichoke Risotto. It is difficult not to have a second helping, you only hold back because you know that being an Italian meal, there will be a lot more to follow.
Here is my Con-suocera's recipe.
6 artichokes, prepared by soaking in lemon juice and then slicing thinly
600 ml stock
1 small onion, finely chopped
olive oil
white wine
350 g Vialone Nano, or Risotto rice
50g grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Fry the onion gently in the oil and butter until soft but not coloured, add the prepared artichokes and stir. Cook gently over a low heat for about 5 minutes and then add the rice. Stir well until each grain is coated and then add the wine and let it evaporate. Gradually add the stock, stirring well each time and carry on until the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat and add the cheese and butter, stir well and cover for 2 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with more grated Parmesan.
This works well as a Piatto unico with salad, or the courgette flower recipe  and a glass of white wine.

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