The inspiration for this recipe came from one of the first cookbooks I owned. When I became interested in cooking my Mum bought me a signed copy of Nigel Slater’s “Real Cooking” which really helped me in those early years. This is a fantastic book and Nigel’s style of cooking and clear love of food is evident in its pages. There is a fantastic quote at the start of the book that captures this perfectly, “There is too much talk of cooking being an art or a science – we are only making ourselves something to eat”. I could not have put it better myself and will be reminded of this at those times when trying to cook something particularly challenging and I start to feel stressed. This book taught me a lot about the enjoyment of food and I would recommend it to anyone who is new to cooking or has become disillusioned by the world of sous vide meats, black olive crumb and sea food mists.
In the book there is a recipe for a pancetta and blue cheese risotto which has become a staple in my cooking. I have remained fairly true to this recipe apart from the addition of some mixed mushroom and herbs. I have added the mushrooms as they not only go perfectly with the existing flavours but also give some additional texture and depth to the dish. I have also used dried oregano and basil plus some fennel seeds. The fennel was a new addition and very much a welcome one. The combination of creamy blue cheese and aromatic anise fennel seeds has become a new favourite of mine as a result.
- Risotto rice, about 250g
- 1 litre Stock – I usually use chicken, plus the liquid from the mushrooms
- 100g pancetta
- 250g Dolcelatte
- a pack of dried mushrooms
- An onion
- a few cloves of garlic
- Fennel seeds, dried oregano and basil
- A glass of white wine
What you need to do
To start with you need to re-hydrate your mushrooms. Follow the instructions on the packet which generally involves covering with boiling water and leaving. Ensure that you retain the liquid when you drain them so that this can be added to the stock. I tend to remove with a slotted spoon so that the liquid remains where it is; you do not want the grainy bits at the bottom so avoid this.
Gently heat the stock in a saucepan with the mushroom liquid. Finely chop the onion and cook in butter and oil with the pancetta in a heavy bottomed pan – I use a Le Creuset casserole. Once the onion is translucent and the fat on the pancetta is starting to crisp add in the garlic, fennel seeds and herbs. Fry for a further couple of minutes before stirring in the rice so that it gets coated in the butter. Add the wine to the pan and let this reduce down for a few minutes before gradually adding the stock. This should be done in stages; adding a third of the stock each time and stirring occasionally until this has been absorbed. I add the mushrooms with the final third of the stock.
Once the last of the stock has been added check the rice to see if it is cooked. Some people like a bit of bite others don’t so cook it how you like it. One thing no one should do is to allow all of the stock to be fully absorbed so that the risotto ends up dry. Once you are happy with the rice stir in a further knob of butter and the cheese in small chunks. Season with salt and pepper and serve once the butter and cheese has started to melt.
Rich, creamy and satisfying
If everything has gone to plan you should have a rich and creamy risotto in front of you. I like a little bit of bite in mine so there will be chalky rice, salty pancetta, creamy blue cheese and earthy mushroom waiting to excite your taste buds. As I alluded to earlier the addition of fennel seeds to this was an absolute revelation. The piquant blue cheese alongside the aromatic fennel was a combination that I had not tried before and it worked really well. Risotto is such a simple and satisfying dish to make and if you heat your stock should only take about 20 -30 minutes to make. This can be served as a main on its own; I served mine with a little cavolo nero gently fried in butter. I have served alongside chicken thighs or Italian sausage in the past which works well but is not necessary. Best of all you may have some left over risotto which can be reheated for lunch the following day or used to make arancini which is what I did.
A little bit extra
So with my leftover risotto I made some arancini. For those who do not already know there are fried balls of risotto which are often served as a starter. I’ve never made these before and so thought why the hell not. All you will need is the leftover risotto, panko bread crumbs, egg wash and some oil. I do not have a fryer so poured the oil into a large saucepan and brought up to a fairly high heat. It needs to be hot so that the oil does not get absorbed but not so hot it burns the food or boils over.
I used panko bread crumbs as they are just brilliant. Most supermarkets should sell them and they are really lovely and crisp and do not absorb as much oil. Roll your rice balls in the egg wash and then in the bread crumbs. Set aside until you are ready to add into the oil. I cooked mine two at a time so that the pan was not overly full and felt this would be better for the oil. I think they took about 15 minutes or so turning gradually through the cooking. You want the outside to be a nice rich brown colour without being burnt. I was worried that they would not heat through as my risotto came straight from the fridge but they were fine. Not overly hot but warm enough to be pleasant.
This was a great little bonus dish and is something I will absolutely do again. I am really glad that I gave this a try; it turned out to be so simple to do with an end result that looked far more impressive than the effort put in. Using the risotto above gave them a lot more flavour than you sometimes get with arancini. Obviously you can experiment with these and add in lots of different fillings which is something I am looking forward to doing in the future.