Risotto Invernale with Radicchio

According to market research, many people prefer recipes that take 27 minutes or less to make.¹ I think my patience level runs very close to this figure. A comforting risotto just fits it into this time frame, so long as you prep most of the ingredients as you go, which to me makes sense; it gives you something else to do while you are stuck beside that pan for 20 minutes or more, stirring, watching, and knocking back the wine you opened to make it.

Garden pickings. Radicchio, cavolo nero, winter’s Tuscan Kale and parsley. Add rice and parmesan to make a fortifying meal.

Risotto is my favourite winter food, especially when the garden provides winter loving treasure such as Cavolo Nero, the dark green Tuscan king of kale, and ruby coloured radicchio, a bitter leafed vegetable that adds colour and crunch to winter meals. As the morning temperatures drop below zero and the ground turns crunchy with white frost, these two plants come into their own. They love a cold snap.

Gazzono brand, Vialone Nano from the Mediterranean Wholesalers, Brunswick.

The other ingredients are fridge and pantry staples. Butter, olive oil, onion, good Italian rice and Parmigiano Grano Padano. Which rice is best for this task? I generally find that the cheaper brands of arborio produce a less appetising result. Although I do enjoy frugality, some cheaper ingredients make for false economy. One kilo of good quality Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice goes a long way.

Chopped radicchio.

Risotto Invernale con Radicchio. Winter Radicchio Risotto. A step by step recipe. Ingredients for two large serves.

  • 1 cup good quality risotto rice ( Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
  • 1 tablespoon EV olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 small red onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 small carrot, very finely chopped( optional)
  • vegetable stock, homemade or made with a stock cube, around 3 cups or more
  • dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
  • a small head of radicchio, finely sliced
  • black pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, Reggiano or Grano Padano
  • more butter, a good knob

Chop half an onion into tiny dice and add it to a wide pan with a generous slurp of olive oil and butter. Although a diced carrot isn’t generally added to the base of a risotto, a little carrot adds some sweet notes, since radicchio can be quite bitter. As the onion gently cooks, bring a pot of vegetable stock to the boil and let it simmer next to your risotto pan.  I like to have more stock than most recipes suggest, just in case it’s needed. This can be either home-made or made from a stock cube. Open the white wine. Measure the rice. Cut a small head of radicchio into fine strips. Find a small butt of Parmesan cheese and ask someone to finely grate it.

The beginning of a risotto.

Add the rice. One cup of rice makes a generous meal for two people. Adjust the recipe for more people. Stir the rice to coat the grains- the rice will turn opaque – then add a big slurp of white wine, ( at least a quarter of a cup, though I  never measure it)  and stir well. At this point, you are allowed to begin drinking, to fortify you for the task ahead.

Step two, add the wine.

Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding the hot stock, one ladle full at a time. There’s no need to stir too vigorously or continually. The heat should be on medium to high, though I generally adjust this up and down as I go. When the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and continue this activity for around 20 minutes or so.

Risotto absorbing the stock.

Add the radicchio and the last ladle of stock and stir vigorously for around 5 minutes. The leaves will soften and the dish will become more creamy. Add a grinding of pepper.

Add the radicchio and last ladle of stock

The final and most important step. Add a good amount of parmesan and butter, la mantecatura, then cover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for 2 minutes.

Take off the lid and stir through the butter and cheese vigorously. The dish will become creamy and smooth. Shake the pan backwards and forwards to observe a wave movement ( all’onda)  in the mixture. If you think that the risotto is a little dry, add a small amount of hot stock and stir through well. You are aiming for a soft, creamy and well united dish that has a little wetness.

Serve with more parmesan.

One of the best things I’ve read about cooking in the last few weeks. ¹ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/18/great-recipe-explosion-social-media-does-more-mean-better-instagram-pinterest

Pastina in Brodo and Random Musings on Soup

I am rather partial to soup. I make it often and in every season for two reasons: I hate sandwiches for lunch and I find soup restorative. Winter soups often tend to be hearty, loaded with vegetables and added beans or pulses, barley, rice or pasta or they are thick vegetable purées such as pumpkin or celery soup. Each member of the family has their favourite. Noah can eat barley and vegetable soup all day, Mischa is a pumpkin soup girl, and Daisy can smell stock bubbling on the stove from a mile off. Charlotte wants Andrew’s soup, her title for Minestrone and Oliver will only eat zucchini soup.

As the vegetable stock reheats on the stove, I have been reflecting on the contraction of the English language when it comes to soup. We do have other terms for soup but most of them are French in derivation and are not exactly quotidian, reserved only for fine dining restaurants. (consomme´and potage come to mind).  Speaking of restaurants, did you know that the word restaurant (meaning something restoring) was first used in France in the 16th century to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion?

Pastina in Brodo
Pastina in Brodo

The Italian language is more precise when it comes to soup.  Zuppa (Soup) is more often called minestra but when it is loaded with a variety of ingredients, it becomes a minestrone. ( the suffix ‘one’ meaning big, large or long which can be added to any noun). A creamy puree´ soup is a crema or crema di verdura , where the vegetable may be named.  Pumpkin soup then becomes Crema di Zucca. A light brothy soup is brodo. Pastina are small pasta shapes, often made of egg dough.

As I have some stock left from my onion soup recipe, a light broth with a little egg pasta and parmesan becomes a five-minute lunch.

Pastina in Brodo 

  • vegetable stock
  • egg pasta, small shapes ( Pastina)
  • grated parmesan, Reggiano or Grana Padano

Heat broth to boiling point, season, add the egg pasta and cook as per packet instructions, then serve with ample grated parmesan cheese.

A slightly longer version includes  beginning with a little soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, cook in oil on medium heat until softened, then add the broth and proceed as above. Or heat the stock, add loads of finely chopped fresh herbs and the parmesan.

The beauty of this broth depends on the quality of the stock. Comforting and restorative.

My Favourite Pastina by La Triestina company, Brunswick.
My Favourite Pastina by La Triestina company, Brunswick.

Italian proverbs on soup. 

Sei come la forchetta nel brodo, non servi a niente– You are like a fork in the soup, you’re useless.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo– an old hen makes the best broth. – Experience is a virtue.

Il brodo di rane fa venir sani– A broth of frogs makes one healthy. Really???This expression must come from Pavia.

Chi ha la mestola in mano, si fa la minestra a suo modo. Who holds the ladle, makes the soup in their own way- Having power to act in their own way by imposing their will.

Minestra di cannelini, zucca, pastina e cavaolo nero.
Minestra di cannelini, zucca, pastina e cavolo nero.

A Soup Retrospective on Almost Italian includes:

French onion soup-   https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/french-onion-soup-with-vegetable-stock-voila/

Pasta and chickpea soup. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/pasta-and-chickpeas/

My favourite soup, Silver beet, cannellini beans and pasta -https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/my-favouite-soup-an-all-year-silverbeet-recipe/

Turkish red lentil soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/turkish-red-lentil-bride-soup/

Spring vegetable soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/spring-soup-tutto-fa-brodo/

Italian Mussel soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/zuppa-estiva-di-cozze-summery-mussel-soup/

Chowder (cullen skink)- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/one-smoked-trout-and-two-meals-for-two/

Minestra di Verdura
Minestra di Verdura