It has been such a joy to have a few bright, sunny days – even though the wind is still cold, it feels as if the year has turned. There are daffs, euphorbia, hellebores, astrantia and, amazingly, jasmine in flower on my terrace and the roses are putting out leaves. As well as the pleasure of seeing my plants come back to life, I have been enjoying cooking lighter, fresher food, though still with enough heft to keep out that cold wind. This risotto should be called Risotto Primavera, I suppose, though I’m not sure it deserves its Italian name as I can’t claim that the recipe is authentic. It is based on the first risotto I learned to cook properly, from Antonio Carluccio’s An Invitation to Italian Cooking in 1986. His recipe made me realise how important stirring in the extra butter and parmesan at the end were to the taste and texture of the dish.
You can, of course, vary the vegetables according to what you have to hand providing the overall quantities are similar. I have been served risotto primavera with young carrots in, but personally I prefer to stick to green vegetables. In the days when I had an asparagus patch, this was a very useful recipe for the days when I had too few asparagus spears to serve on their own and leeks are good too (cook them gently in the butter at the start). Later in the year it is lovely with fresh peas and beans, but we are still in the ‘hunger gap’ as it used to be called – the time when the winter supplies are nearly over but the new spring vegetables aren’t yet ready to eat.
For 2 as a light lunch, served with a green salad.
3-4 spring onions
a little olive oil
a splash of vermouth or white wine (optional)
150g arborio rice
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
120g frozen peas
80g frozen broad beans
80g green beans
1 small courgette
salt and pepper
30g parmesan, grated
leaves from a stem or two of basil, chopped
Trim and chop the spring onions – you can use shallots or half a small onion if you prefer. Heat a little olive oil with half the butter in a saucepan and gently cook the onions until they start to soften. Heat the stock in a separate saucepan and keep it at a gentle simmer. Add the rice to the onions and turn it in the butter for a minute or two. Pour in a good slug of vermouth or white wine and stir until it has evaporated. Then, keeping the heat moderate, start the process of adding the hot stock to the rice a ladleful at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to release the starch from the rice and make the risotto creamy.
Top and tail the green beans and cut them into 2 cm pieces. Trim the courgettes, cut them into four lengthwise and then across into dice. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 4 minutes or until they are nearly tender. Scoop them out into a colander using a slotted spoon. Bring the water back to the boil and set the timer for four minutes. First add the broad beans, then after a minute add the peas and a minute later the courgettes. When the timer rings drain the vegetables, keeping some of the cooking water in case you need a bit of extra liquid for the risotto. By this time the rice should be beginning to swell. When the rice has been cooking for 15 minutes tip the vegetables into the pan, and continue adding the stock and stirring for a further 5 minutes or so. When the rice is al dente – the risotto should look creamy but the rice still have a little bite – stir in most of the grated parmesan and the rest of the butter. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste (I sometimes add a grating of nutmeg too), and serve scattered with the basil and the last of the parmesan.
I served it with a salad of wild rocket and little gem, with a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil.