Risotto is my go-to thing. As you can see here, here and here, I make it a lot and I like tweaking the ingredients each time. It’s one of those dishes I’ve really got down, like, I know the basics, I don’t need to read a risotto recipe and I know what I can add or take away for it to still be edible. It’s also a meal I can usually pull together on nights when no-one wants to go to the shop. I’ve always got half a box of risotto rice kicking about, a slab of cheese, a couple of stock cubes, the dregs of some kind of wine (or Madeira, as I’ve taken to use when I’m stuck – it’s not our tipple of choice I’m always safe in the knowledge there’ll be some left in the bottle!) and some onion and garlic. The staples, if you will.
This week, I’ve been settling back into freelance life. I’m working from home at the moment, writing features and blog posts and marketing materials for a handful of really lovely clients who mostly want to talk about food, travel, a bit of fashion and weddings – pretty dreamy combo eh? So, although I’ve been in the flat more, I’ve been working hard on getting my affairs in order, kicking off projects and also looking after this little pooch, who’s staying with us for a few weeks while her dad’s on holiday. And cooking all the creative dinners, ready and waiting for my boyfriend when he gets home from a long day in the city, hasn’t really gone to plan. Enter, risotto. Easy to throw together, a total crowd-pleaser, and like I said, made up of whatever I’ve got in the kitchen. And, with the aforementioned home-working in mind, it makes for great leftover lunches for meeee!
This cheese and ham risotto recipe is a three-cheeser but it’s not the usual suspects spreading their dairy joy, oh no. Because this was a leftovers risotto, I used up some Bavarian smoked cheese I’d bought for snacking (don’t judge), a bit of blue cheese I had for a cheese board and some Gruyere, which I’d used most of in this sweet potato and sausage bake. You can use whatever you want cheese-wise, or head out and buy these. It’s up to you. I would, however, recommend trying it with the smoked cheese at some point – it provides a totally different taste to your typical Parmesan-y risotto. The result is creamy and cheesy, but not as overpoweringly so as you might thing. The ham helps add a little saltiness and using shallots as well as onion dials up the sweetness. At the end you can add whatever you want – I stirred in some lovely porcini mushrooms and chopped up fresh basil leaves and then I topped it with a few slithers of blue cheese and ham, lots of fresh cracked black pepper and a big ol’ basil leaf for effect. The next day, for lunch, I added a dollop of onion jam, which was a pretty damn tasty addition. Again, it’s up to you.
Want to know how to make risotto? Scroll past the snaps below for the recipe, which makes enough for about 6 portions, just add a little side salad or some garlic bread if you’re particularly hungry or divide it into 4 instead.
200g risotto rice
1 large white onion, diced
8 shallots, chopped in half
1 bulb garlic – remove all the cloves, peel and dice
2 shot glasses Madeira
2 chicken stock cubes (I used the melty pot ones from Knorr)
Approx 100g blue cheese, cut into slithers (it was Blue Viny for me, but any will do)
Approx 100g smoked cheese, sliced thinly (you know the sausage-shaped one in orange foil)
Approx 150g Gruyere, grated
3 slices Parma ham
Handful of fresh basil
Fry the onion and shallots with a little salt and pepper on a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring continuously so everything’s the same colour with no overly brown bits.
Turn up the heat and add the garlic. When that turns golden, add the risotto rice and stir well. As the rice turns translucent, add half of the Madeira. Stir well and allow that to absorb for about 5 minutes. Then add the rest and stir again. It should be sizzling a little and the smell of alcohol will be quite strong – don’t worry, most of this cooks out.
Mix one of the stock cubes with a pint of hot water and bit by bit, pour it over the rice, stir well and allow it to sink it. When the rice starts to look dry, in goes the next pour, and so on. Once your first lot of stock is used up, add the cheese, saving a little of the blue for the top at the end. Then mix the other stock cube with half a pint of hot water and do the same again. The whole process should take about half an hour, so make sure you’ve got something tasty to drink while you watch, stir and repeat!
To check your risotto is cooked, just try a bit. It should be soft but not melty (though the cheesy sauce should most definitely be melty). If the rice has a bit of a bite, you can add a little more liquid or turn up the heat.
When your risotto rice is cooked, stir in the ham and chopped basil, saving a little of each for serving. Cook for a few more minutes and then dish up.