It doesn’t take a genius to realise that risotto is right up there in the God Tier when it comes to comfort food.
Creamy to the point of nursery and comfortingly repetitive, the texture alone is enough to incite the pillowiest of soothe to it’s eater but taking into account the technique itself is a culinary embrace, I believe that a Universal agreement is not an unreasonable appreciation.
Not that we’re trying to recreate baby food, but there is something so soothing and dream-like about having the same spoonful one after the other. No surprises or shocks, just enveloping calm.
I like making risottos at the end of a long day. You’d think that at the end of a long, stressful, wall breaking day you’d want to be in and out of the Kitchen like a ninja grabbing at any pre-made nonsense in your path, but stirring a risotto brings such serenity and solace that it’s something I absolutely seek in the depths of my rage.
There is no internal dialogue when it comes to risotto. It’s instinct, and this is what is missing with a lot of day-to-day homecooking. You taste as you go, allowing your palette to guide what it needs more of, your connecting to stirring the rice allows you to feel when you need to add more water – there is a ‘be-at-one’ with the food that is very calmingly connective.
I’ve spoken about meditation on the blog before and while I can admit that the Kitchen is not where I meditate (opting more toward moving meditation when I walk the dog) there is a cerebral meditative quality to risotto making. It’s absorbing, the constant stirring and repetition, the gluing to the stove – it forces you to be present as you cook, to be aware of what is happening but never crossing over into forceful action. It’s hypnotic.
Take out of your mind also that a risotto takes up to an hour to make. If you use Arborio rice (risotto rice, basically) you will have dinner on the table in 20 minutes. I’ve omitted parmesan here – which is usually my standard in a risotto – in lieu of some baked feta. Have you ever tried it?
It holds it’s architecture so surely but underneath that copper crust is a wobbly, creamy, oozing cheese that will erupt into your risotto as you break into it with a fork. YES.
Preheat the oven to 200c and boil a full kettle of water.
Grab one leek and one stick of celery. Chop the leek into half moons and finely chop the celery as small as you have energy for.
Melt a dab of butter in your widest pan and throw in the leek/celery and sweat until the start to soften.
Grate in the zest of one lemon and squeeze in the juice – watch the pips. I tend to squeeze mine over a sieve. It’s one extra thing to wash up but it means I can brutally force out every bit of juice!
Add some salt and pepper.
Scatter in a cupful of Arborio rice and stir it around so that it starts to take on the slick sheen of the leeky buttery juices.
Now take half a block of feta, smear it in oil, place it on a baking sheet and slip in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Crumble over a vegetable stock cube before pouring over a cup of hot water from the kettle.
Constantly stir the rice. It will start to release starch and cream up a little but the minute you feel the water absorbed up by the rice, pour in more water.
Do this for about 10-15 minutes, adding water and stirring – the rice should absorb another two big glugs of water in this time.
Grab yourself a big, generous handful of spinach. The bigger the better, remembering that spinach decreases a LOT when it’s hot.
Cut it up as small as you have patience for, I tend to just open up the bag and carefully hack away into it with a scissors.
Drop the spinach into the risotto.
Chop up some mint and scatter it into the spinach, stirring as you go so that the spinach and mint smear through the risotto.
My pan, regardless of how big it is, always feels like it’s not beg enough but keep stirring calmly and everything will cream together gently.
Now finally stir through a big tablespoon of double cream until everything comes together and take off the heat.
Serve up the risotto in bowls, but not before taking the feta out of the oven, carefully slicing it (I just use the edge of a spatula) and serve on top of the risotto to drag through with your fork as you eat.