Never was there a more feared or controversial dish than risotto (insert dramatic organ solo here). Many people simply refuse to cook it because their first attempt was a disaster. Others think they are the world's biggest expert and their way is the only way to make it.
When I quizzed my friend Simon - who serves up some exceptional risotto - about what makes his so good, I was expecting it to have something to do with his Italian heritage and a recipe passed down from generations. Instead he explained that the most important ingredient is amore.
Simply put, Simon says add a little bit of love and it'll turn out just fine.
The following recipe will feed 3-4 people and is my way of making risotto. It's cooking, so play around and see what works for you.
A couple of variations to this recipe are to cook off some bacon or pancetta chunks before you cook the chicken; or add some roasted cherry tomatoes just before serving if you like a little more colour.
Risotto doesn't freeze so well so if there are leftovers a nice thing to do for lunch the next day is make the cold rice into a patty and fry it off in some butter until it's nice and crispy on the outside (taking care when flipping).
1 litre chicken stock, homemade is best, or a good quality store bought, but a stock cube won't cut it
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1tbs olive oil
1tbs unsalted butter
4 chicken thighs, trimmed of any excess fat, and chopped into bite size pieces
1 bunch fresh asparagus, woody ends removed and chopped into 5cm pieces*
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 bay leaves
2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to season
Put the stock in a pot over a low heat. This is imperative because if you add cold stock to the rice you are reducing the temperature and therefore stop/starting the cooking.
In a pot or deep pan, fry off the chicken in half the olive oil until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
At the same time, blanch the asparagus in a separate pot and set aside.
Add the remainder of the olive oil to the original pan and add the butter, melting it over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
Add the rice and stir well to cover in the oil. Don't worry about the brown bits left from the chicken, this is where the flavour is.
Add the white wine and bay leaves and increase the heat until it begins to bubble. Keep stirring and the rice will start to become creamy as it absorbs the liquid. Once the wine is gone, reduce the heat to medium and add the stock one ladle at a time. Stir gently and let the rice absorb each round of stock before adding the next. It will take approximately 20 minutes for all the stock to be absorbed.
Check that the rice is cooked, it should be slightly al dente. If you do run out of stock you can always add some boiling water to complete the cooking, but 1 litre of liquid should be plenty.
Add the chicken and asparagus to the pot and stir through. Just before serving remove the bay leaves and add the parsley and Parmesan, stirring well to combine. Have a taste and only season with pepper if need be, the stock and cheese often add enough salt.
*The easiest way to remove the ends of the asparagus is to just snap them off, they will break at the exact right point.