Risotto with Taramasalata
FEATURING MONJAY MEZZA’S TARAMASALATA DIP
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Jerry once said of George, ‘Knowing you is like going into the jungle. I never know what I’m going to find next, and I’m real scared’. He could have been talking about risotto. The myths, fables, pitfalls and superstitions surrounding this famous dish have driven many an amateur (and professional) cook to despair. Unfortunately, the risotto’s notorious reputation precedes it to such a degree that most of us go into it assuming it will be difficult, if not an outright disaster. And herein lies the first step to the perfect risotto: confidence. You can make a proper risotto; you will make a proper risotto.
The second step is the rice. Arborio is popular but leads to a stiffer, gluggier risotto. Carnaroli is the grain of choice; it has the better ratio of the two starches, amylose and amylopectin. The first sits inside the grain and absorbs the stock and wine and grows soft and flavourful. The second starch coats the grain, and swells and gelatinises. The problem with amylopectin is that it won’t gelatinise as much if exposed to high heat for too long. It pays to keep this in mind when toasting the rice in the butter.
Third step, stock. If you have homemade chicken stock sitting in the freezer, definitely use it. If you want to use powdered, by all means. But, honestly, a homemade vegetable stock is easy and quick and vastly superior to anything out of a tin. Roughly chop a carrot, a couple of celery stalks with the leaves, a peeled onion, two garlic cloves and some parsley stalks, add to a saucepan with 1.2 litres of water. Throw in some peppercorns, thyme sprigs, a teaspoon of salt and a star anise lightly bruised with the butt of your knife. Simmer for 30 minutes. Done. The longer you leave it to sit, the stronger the flavour will be. So, make ahead.
The final step is the correct cooking vessel, which is a heavy based frying pan, or anything wide enough so that the rice doesn’t sit too deep. If it does, only the bottom layer will absorb the stock, which means you have to keep stirring.
For the risotto:
- 1 litre stock
- 50g butter
- 2 shallots or 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed with a little salt
- 1 ½ cups carnaroli rice (or arborio)
- 150 ml white wine
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 tbsp Monjay’s Taramasalata
For the scallops:
- 50g butter
- Splash of olive oil
- 450g scallops
How to Prepare
Put whatever stock you’ve chosen to use in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Put a heavy based frypan on a nearby hob and melt the butter. Add the shallots/onion and celery and sweat them till softened, then scrape in the garlic. Pour in the rice, stir to coat the grains, leave for a minute and then turn the heat up a touch and pour in the wine. Let it bubble away for a moment and then reduce the heat again, and allow the rice to absorb all the liquid.
Now it’s time to add the stock. This can be done in three or four stages, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Stir the rice every now and again. Because we’re using frozen peas, add them to the risotto just before the final third of the stock goes in.
When the rice is al dente, stir through the taramasalata and take off the heat.
While those fat, pearly grains are absorbing that unctuous taramasalata, deal with the scallops. Put a pan onto medium high heat and add the butter and oil. Sprinkle the scallops with salt and then sear them on one side for two minutes and turn to reveal a lovely golden, caramelised disc. Leave for thirty seconds before transferring to a plate.
Time to serve. To get an idea of a good risotto consistency, scoop some risotto onto a flat plate and bang its base on the table (like some baristas do with the milk jug when they haven’t steamed correctly). The risotto should ooze to the edges, nice and slowly. It should have a luscious mouthfeel and a clean finish. Dot the scallops on the risotto so they appear as proud little islands, and eat, full of confidence.
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