I make good risotto. I know the exact moment to add the stubby Arborio and sometimes when I find it, Carnaroli rice to onions glassy and just beginning to take on colour in the sizzling olive oil in the bottom of the heavy based pot which I always use. I can tell exactly when to pour in the glass of white wine to the grains of rice, glossy and plump and somewhat translucent around the dense white centres of each individual grain, clicking against the side of the pot as I stir hard with my sturdiest wooden spoon, waiting for the hiss and splutter of the cold wine in the pot to simmer down to a gentle burble and the alcohol fumes to dissipate, before that first ladle of stock simmering on the back burner goes in. The stock gets made first of course: I know how to make good stock too and I usually have home made chicken stock in the freezer, since, as you may know, good stock is paramount..
I love the intensity of it all: the concentration and dedication required: standing by the stove, stirring, watching how, after each ladle of stock, the rice grains swell and release their creamy starch, until after about twenty minutes of that, the rice lusciously makes rather obscene noises as it gets stirred around once more before the flavouring ingredients are added. I add those later rather than earlier: depending on the ingredient. Mushroom risotto gets the reconstituted porcini added in early as they can withstand the stirring without breaking up, and only later the rest of the mushrooms fried in garlic and butter. For pumpkin risotto the roasted pumpkin gets folded in rather gently right at the end. Then the mixture of parmesan and sometimes pecorino, and butter just before it gloopily gets dolloped out onto white plates where it settles porridge-like. To mushroom risotto I usually add a little luxurious dribble of truffle oil: not truffle flavoured, but the real thing, flakes of black truffle floating at the bottom of the tiny bottle…
All of you food lovers and cooks will have to nod your heads at that description and concur: she knows how to make risotto.
Alas, I have to report that my boyfriend did not like my risotto! He said very kindly after loyally finishing his bowl of mushroom risotto on Saturday evening, that although I probably cooked it perfectly, risotto was not his favourite dish. Something to do with exactly that prized porridgy creamy texture with the rice still a little al dente…
In all honesty, I kind of knew it: about a year and a half ago I made a mushroom risotto for him and friends, which did not come out very well: I had to do it without butter or cheese, since the friend is lactose intolerant, so a very dry and stodgy risotto resulted. But I was convinced that when he tastes the real thing he would be bowled over, and I was delighted when Saturday seemed slightly cooler: just the weather for another go at making a risotto.
So that night we stood in my kitchen (his kitchen is still under construction), chopping onions and mushrooms together, chatting to his son who came over for dinner, my lover appreciatingly sniffing the fragrant aromas of butter and garlic and wine and later mushrooms, me feeling certain that this time the risotto will be perfect and that he would love it.
In bed that night, my cook’s ego wide awake, I whisperingly asked if he would let me make him a butternut risotto.
He said “YES”! And then “I love you”. And I fell happily asleep. And now I am waiting for the first really cold winter’s night.