A risotto, in all of its unruly and uncontained fashion, is rarely a Picasso to look at, is it?
Especially this one, made even drearier and browner thanks to the slow-cooked onions and the drip-drip-drip feed of dark, beefy broth that’s added slowly throughout.
Nigella Lawson said it so much better than I did in her 2020 book Cook, Eat, Repeat when she dedicated a whole chapter to brown and beige foods that had faces only mothers could love, titled ‘A Loving Defence of Brown Food,’ and if I had to nail my colours to the mast in favour of this argument, I would put forward this recipe.
This recipe is basically what it looks like – a bowl of sloppy brown rice, but if you take it at that face value, you will miss everything about its DNA that makes it so wonderful.
Imagine all the flavours of a French Onion Soup, deep in its hearty, beefy, golden unctuousness, but delivered through the creamy, nubbly density of a risotto. This is that, and while it asks for you to stand by your stove for a little longer than you’d possibly want to of an evening, it is absolutely worth it.
Of course, the task itself is not laborious, you’re not doing anything more than stirring here, watching onions collapse into themselves, releasing their juices and in doing so, turning to a thick, syrupy base to puncture the rice.
I have specified beef stock here, in-keeping with my desire to replicate the bolstering flavour demands of a French Onion Soup, but I understand how this takes its appeal away from those who don’t eat anything meat-based. In which case, I can offer the alternative of vegetable stock, but I’d recommend maybe stirring a small teaspoon of Marmite through the pan, just to give it that extra lick of salty umami (God I hate used that word) that would certainly be missed without it.
Serves 4 – 6
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs fresh rosemary – finely chopped – plus more for serving
300 g of risotto rice like Arborio
1 cup of white wine
1 litre of beef stock stock
A handful of grated Parmesan (to serve)
- Peel and finely slice the onion into strips as thin as you can.
- Melt the butter in your widest pan on a medium heat and add the onions with a little salt. Continue to cook these slowly and gently, stirring as you go until they soften and turn gold and jammy. This can take anything between 30 minutes and a hour, depending how low you set your flame/hob. I like to stretch this out for as long as I possibly can.
- When the onions and sticky and golden, grate in the garlic and add the rosemary, stirring through.
- Tip in the rice and stir it into the brown onion mush until the grains turn glossy and get coated.
- Pour in the wine and bring it to a bubble, gently stirring until the rice absorbs all of the liquor.
- Pour a cupful of the stock into the rice, leave to come to a bubble and stir. Here you can be a little more relaxed. The jist is that you continue adding the stock cupful – by – cupful and stirring in between. Just keep going, adding stock and stirring until the rice starts plumping up and softening. Keep going. You’ll know the risotto is done when the grains are soft and creamy. I like checking it’s done by doing what I call the ‘Moses Tide’. By this I mean drag a spoon down the middle of the pan and if the rice stays on either side and slowly moves back together with no liquid spilling in the middle, it’s as good as done.
- Taste for seasoning, you may want to add a little more salt if you feel so inclined but don’t forget there’s Parmesan coming. Just before serving, add a generous grating of Parmesan, a further sprinkle of fresh rosemary, and a scrunch of black pepper.