It is safe to say that I am a bit of a rice addict, it’s just so quick and versatile to cook with and there are so many delightful varieties to choose from, from light and fluffy basmati, to wholesome brown, glossy long grain and succulent arborio. Here I have created a fresh and tantalising summer risotto with a naturally creamy veggie twist. Arborio is an Italian short-grain rice that is firm and creamy due to its high starch content and can also be used to make rice pudding.
I don’t really measure my ingredients or plan meals ahead of time as I prefer to stick my nose into the fridge and see what vegetables I have each day before deciding what to rustle up, much like the foodie version of Countdown, but switch letters and anagrams for parsnips and a glass of wine. Today I used half an aubergine, a whole white onion, one carrot, a sweet yellow pepper, two cloves of garlic, and an inch of root ginger. I peeled, washed and diced all of the vegetables before adding them to a heavy bottom saucepan with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a generous shake of dried sage before replacing the lid to sweat them off on a medium heat for several minutes.
I then crumbled two vegetable stock cubes into the saucepan and emptied the rest of a bag of arborio rice to fry off for a few minutes before gradually covering the rice with cold tapwater a cup at a time as it thickens, stirring at regular intervals so that it doesn’t stick. There are so many ways to prepare arborio rice, I used to mix up the stock in a jug with boiling water and pour literally a splash at a time into the pot until it was absorbed, and I’ve also tried adding all the water to start with and waiting ages for it to cook in. Now I add probably a third of a pan of water out of the tap at a time, replace the lid and wait for it to absorb before adding some more. I follow the water with a good knob of butter to give the rice a glossy smooth texture and creamy taste. I cook the rice on a low heat for around twenty minutes until it is firm yet creamy. Winter is a great time for a gooey risotto, and adding cheese tastes absolutely amazing, as it’s a hot summers day I wanted more of a soft and refreshing dish so went for light and fresh vegetables.
Aubergine has a wonderful texture, a bit like cooked apples but without the sweetness, and the ability to take on the flavour of any dish so it works lovely with the creamy arborio rice. Following the creamy theme, I have garnished the dish with fresh basil leaves from my garden and a handful of crushed raw peanuts. I love raw peanuts as they are, you’ve guessed it, creamy and crunchy adding a great contrasting texture to that of the smooth rice. You could also pour over fresh cream taking care not to heat it as it can curdle, or shavings of hard cheese.