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Rachel Roddy's recipe for hopeful spring risotto | A kitchen in Rome | Food


There are 14 entrances to Testaccio’s covered market – usually. These days, just one is open, usually the one nearest the fish stalls, and it is overseen by a man who counts customers in up to 30, and after that operates a one-in, one-out system Gone are the swells of people, the jostling for position, the tickets flicked out of lanky dispensers; now we are guided by masking-tape lines and firm instructions.

When the first wave of measures were imposed on Rome, a short video of a man wearing a huge disc of cardboard around his middle (to signify the necessary safe distance) went viral. It was a father from my son’s school, and the market was Testaccio. This all seemed hilarious just over a month ago, but now it is normal – only we don’t need the cardboard to gauge the distance. Everyone is wearing masks and gloves, every counter has a pump dispenser ready to deliver servings of clear white sanitiser.

Upsetting is the absence of Filippo, the longest-standing fruit and vegetable vendor, who, since 1967 (then aged 14), has run a stall selling vegetables that he grows on his land an hour and a half outside Rome. For 54 years, Testaccio market has been Filippo’s life and livelihood; he is strong and fit enough to spend many more there. His wife, however, is neither strong nor well, which was the thing – the only thing, maybe – to convince him to leave. Many of his customers are worried and in a sort of mourning. Not that Filippo would want anything so sentimental: “Vai da Marco” (“go to Marco”), he would say. Marco runs the stall opposite with his father.

Spring marches on, and Marco’s stall is full of green these days: spinach, chard, chicory, lettuce, gangly broad beans, asparagus and peas; wild and tame. Peas for everyone, every pod a gamble, charged with cannonballs that burst with flavour. Will we eat them all before they get anywhere near a pan? And who cares if we do? I always have frozen to hand and love them just as much – especially in a spring risotto.

Spring – and spring risotto – marches on, hopefully.

Spring risotto

Prep 20 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 4

2 litres light chicken or vegetable stock, or salted water
5 spring onions, diced
2 small courgettes
, quartered lengthways, then sliced into quarter moons
7 tbsp olive oil
Salt
300g peas and/or broad beans
, fresh or frozen
60g butter
350g risotto rice
(I use carnaroli)
1 small glass of wine or vermouth
60g parmesan
, grated
1 tbsp finely chopped herbs
Lemon zest
, to taste

First get the stock ready: two litres of light chicken stock, vegetable stock, pea pod stock (which is made by simmering empty pea pods in water for an hour and straining) or simply salted water simmering gently in pan at the back of the cooker.

Next, the vegetables: using whatever you have. On this occasion, I had spring onions (four for the vegetable stage, one for the rice stage later), two small courgettes and peas. Trim and slice the spring onions into rings – both the white and green bits – and cut the courgettes into four lengths, then into quarter moons.

The vegetables are cooked separately. Start with the spring onion: stew four-fifths of it in three tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt, thenadd the courgettes and peas.

Stir for a couple of minutes, add a ladle of warm stock, then let the vegetables simmer, until tender with just a little liquid. The vegetables can now be pulled to one side and kept warm.

In another pan, make the risotto. Warm a tablespoon of olive oiland half the butter over a medium heat until the butter foams. Add the remaining spring onion, and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, stirring until every grain glistens, and is heated through.

Add the wine, which should whoosh as it hits the pan, then stir until it has been absorbed. Start adding stock a ladleful at a time, stirring firmly and allowing it to be absorbed before adding the next. The process will take about 16 minutes; after 12 minutes, stir in the vegetables.

Turn off the heat, add the remaining butter and the parmesan, the herbs, and some lemon zest, if you wish.

Cover the pan with a lid or a cloth, count to 60, then uncover and beat vigorously, until the risotto is creamy and glossy. Taste and add salt, if you think it needs it.

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