Monday, October 31, 2011

Comfort food, plain and simple

Lemon Risotto
It used to be that I only made risotto when I was out to impress someone. I'd rush over to potlucks in oven mitts, carrying a saucepan with a still-warm batch. I'd win over my few distinguished dinner guests (that is, real adults, not like me and my college friends, still playing at being adults) with a splash or two of wine and a generous bowlful. But then I realised recently, when I hadn't made any risotto in well over a year, that it was really something that I should just make for myself now and then. It was food for a laid-back Sunday afternoon. I could turn up the radio, chop some aromatics, leisurely add stock to arborio, and wind up just a little while later with something warm, rich, and creamy to savour while watching the leaves outside fall and flutter about. Risotto, I realised, doesn't need an occasion. Sure, white wine and reggiano make it a little luxurious, but really, risotto at its best is just comfort food, plain and simple.
So when I turned to an old favourite last weekend and read the recipe's headnotes, I had to laugh. Nigella Lawson had had it right all along--I just hadn't payed enough attention: "This is comfort food on so many levels. For one, risotto has to be one of the most comforting things to eat ever. What's more, although everyone goes on about the finicketiness and crucial fine-tuning involved, I find risotto immensely comforting to make: in times of strain, mindless repetitive activity--in this case, 20 minutes of stirring--can really help." The lady knows what she's talking about.
And her lemon risotto is good too, really good. It's the risotto I've been making since those first days of cooking for myself, the one I usually made when looking to impress--and it's still the one I like best. It doesn't look like much, I know--just a bit of lemon, rosemary, celery, shallot, and butter for flavour--but it's splendid. It always surprises me. Just this last time, I was convinced that it couldn't be as good as I remembered it being, that I'd surely outgrown it at this point. But then I had my first bite and thought: no, it is just that good. It was lemony and bright but, with that splash of cream and egg yolk at the end, also positively indulgent. I was ecstatic. It's good when something turns out to be just as you remembered it.

Lemon Risotto
Adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe
Note: About the wine. Depending on the wine you're using, you might just want to use a half cup of wine and add more stock to make up for the volume. I love tart things, but I can see how the risotto could be a touch too tart with a full cup of wine and the lemon juice. Of course, another splash of cream or a more generous dusting of parm will also cut the acid. Feel free to replace all of the wine with stock if you don't have any wine on hand, though it does make the risotto especially nice. About the stock. The amount of stock you'll need really depends on your arborio. Originally, I had only three cups of stock on the stove, and when I was down to the last ladleful, my arborio was not at all cooked through. So, I suggest having four cups on hand just in case. When you're down to about a cup of stock, start tasting the arborio for doneness and add or withhold stock accordingly. About the cream. Good risotto should be creamy without the help of any cream, but it does help cut the acidity of the wine and lemon. Add as few as two tablespoons or as many as four, depending on how indulgent you're feeling. Four tablespoons might be over-the-top luxe, but they do make the risotto very satisfying.

2 shallots, very finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons / 30 g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups / 300 g arborio rice
1 cup white wine (see headnotes)
3-4 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Zest and juice of half a lemon, preferably unwaxed and organic
Needles from 1 large sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
 Flakey sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Warm the butter and olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at a simmer.
Then, add the arborio to the shallot and celery, stirring well to coat with the oil and butter. Toast until translucent, 1-2 minutes.
Pour about half of the wine into the arborio and keep stirring until the wine has absorbed. Then add the other half and stir again. Continue doing this with ladlefuls of stock until the arborio is al dente. You may not need all of the stock.
Stir the lemon zest and rosemary into the risotto. In a small bowl, beat the lemon juice, egg yolk, parmesan, cream, and pepper (to taste).
When the risotto is ready--when the arborio is no longer chalky but still has some bite--take it off heat and stir in the bowl of eggy, lemony mixture. Salt to taste and serve immediately (with more parmesan, if you'd like).
Serves two very hungry people or just three.

P.S. I got my copy of Momofuku Milk Bar late last week, and I am so psyched to bake from it. Christina Tosi, I'm pretty sure, is my new hero. I'm just waiting for FedEx to deliver the big bucket of liquid glucose I ordered yesterday. Yes, I am really getting 2.2 lbs of inverted sugar delivered to my door. Then I will bake up a storm and report back. I promise.


  1. I was reading about citrus risotto in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and it really intrigued me. But this version sounds perfect--I love the idea of lemon and rosemary and the overall really subtle notes of this. And I loved your writing about this risotto, not going to lie, it has sold me. ;) I have got to try this.

    And liquid glucose?! So excited to read about it.

  2. I rarely make risotto for myself, it just seems to take so long (it does not) This lemony risotto sound delicious I have never added egg yolk to a risotto, so I think I have to give this a try.

  3. I've been meaning to try this recipe for ages. I absolutely love Nigella's food, but I've never been sure about the whole lemon and creamy eggy thing.
    But I'm now convinced it must work if you loved it enough to include here, so I'm going to try this next week for sure.

  4. I love risotto because it makes such a satisfying meal! The lemon in it sounds interesting and delicious!

  5. Amy, thanks! I don't actually own the Zuni cookbook, though I know it's a great favourite of Molly's at Orangette. Have you cooked much from it? By the way, the liquid glucose arrived yesterday. I'll be doing a little baking tomorrow morning for sure...

    Lena, I know what you mean about risotto, but it really is worth it. And if you end up just cooking for yourself, you can always make arancini from the leftovers the next day. I don't mind eating cold leftover risotto (I've been known to eat lots of cold leftovers right out of the fridge), but more particular people like to form balls from leftover risotto, roll them in egg and bread crumbs, and then fry them until their golden. I've done it once, but usually, between me and my boyfriend, there just isn't any leftover risotto.

    Zoe, I'm glad you're convinced. The creamy, lemony egg thing definitely works. I hope you'll like it!

    Erica, this is my favourite risotto, and it is very satisfying. You should give it a try!

  6. Hear hear! Great post and beautiful recipe.

  7. Thanks, Oana. Good to hear from you. :)

  8. Hey Katie, I made this last night--just for myself and a friend--and you were right about it being no-fuss comfort food. I especially liked the lemon flavor with the rosemary. I must say, I think it might be one of my favorite versions of risotto yet! Thanks for sharing the recipe.