A few weeks back, I designed and cooked a Yorkshire Day menu for a demonstration at the Le Creuset store in Leeds Victoria Quarter. Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the starter: Courgette Risotto! This was the first cookery demonstration I’ve done, and I was lucky enough to have the plush surroundings of the luxury French cookware brand we all know I’m obsessed with. It was nerve racking, and not something I’d ever seen myself doing, but could I turn down such a great opportunity? No way. Le Creuset coached me every step of the way, and luckily, there were a lovely bunch of ladies in attendance. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – and I actually enjoyed it, having previously thought I’d burn at least 10 tea towels, all of my fingers and, just possibly, the whole place down. Turns out I’m one step closer to basically being Rachel Khoo (no?… ok maybe not).
Let’s talk about the food. I’m one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic. Which I guess is obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t do it so much. Risotto, however, is probably the most therapeutic dish to make, with a slow bubble and methodical stir that will calm worries and soothe stress. It’s also great to make for a group – one pot means little washing up and it can bubble away while you stand by with your spatula looking pretty. It can be served as a starter or, in larger portions, as a main. It’s versatile, innit. That’s part of the reason I chose it as my first dish to make in front of a room of people. And I’m glad I did – it went down pretty well, and I somehow managed to channel a bit of its laid back Italian charm.
It’s natural to think of risotto as a winter dish. But personally, I see it as the perfect vehicle for the fresh, zingy flavours of summer. Served in small portions, a risotto really doesn’t have to be heavy, which is why I chose it as a starter for my Yorkshire Day menu. Forget the traditional pairings of meaty mushrooms and chunky root veg – just stick with the seasonal veg and herbs of the warmer months and you’ll be reet. Another thing I don’t agree with: that risotto is a labour of love. That phrase is so loaded. Yes, it needs your attention, but it doesn’t have to take hours. In fact, using the 30cm shallow casserole I’m so prone to banging on about, it takes little over half an hour. The method is easy once you know how, and pretty soon you’ll be whipping these bad boys up like it’s second nature.
As with everything great, it starts with onions. You can use small onions, or even shallots. Shallots will give you a slightly sweeter flavour that will work well with the more delicate citrus notes in this recipe. Onions and shallots, like risotto, need some lovin’. Dice them small and soften them over a low heat with a little oil and a little butter, for anything up to 30 minutes. They’ll be sweet, soft and translucent. Add garlic and thyme and you have a perfect base. Next up is the rice. It’s deceiving. Just a cup of the dried stuff will feed six people starter sized portions and probably leave you some left-overs. So many times I’ve just poured Arborio rice into the pan willy-nilly, but be warned: that stuff expands. Add a cup of your rice to the pan and move it around. You want to coat each grain in the oil, get it all up in those juicy onions. Cook it out for around five minutes, stirring continually, and you’ll notice it starts to go translucent around the edges. At that point, you’re ready to add your wine.
The wine I used for the Yorkshire Day risotto was a bit special. Made in Leventhorpe, the dry white is ideal for this dish because the acidity is a great balancing flavour paired with the creaminess of the rice and cheese. Starting with a large glass and reducing it down until almost gone, it’ll deglaze the pan, soak up all the flavour from the onions and the taste of the wine lingers on the rice while the alcohol cooks off. The wine, along with the courgettes and lemon, really go a long way to keeping this dish light and summery, despite the robust base. If you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking then you can deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar, which will also add some acidity. In a pinch, you can even use stock.
Alongside the wine, the real star of the show here is the Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. Usually a risotto is made with Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I wanted to see if, in the spirit of Yorkshire Day, I could get a local cheese in there instead. As always, when I’ve got a cheese-based query (and trust me, they crop up a lot) I head straight to my local cheesemonger, the lovely George & Joseph I’m Chapel Allerton. They were more than happy to help me and when I requested a Yorkshire equivalent to Parmesan, they suggested Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. A hard cheese, it still has a rich, creamy texture, but it grated perfectly into the risotto, not overpowering the way a softer cheese might be, but leaving behind a residual flavour and saltiness slightly more interesting than your typical Parmesan.
When plating up I topped each portion with ribbons of fresh courgette and crushed, toasted pine nuts. Not only does it make for a very pretty finish, but it also adds a touch of freshness and a much needed bit of crunch to an otherwise soft, rich dish.
Yorkshire Day Courgette Risotto with Leventhorpe Wine & Ribblesdale Goats Cheese
(makes enough for six starter portions or three mains)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
5 shallots or 1 large/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
Approx 130g Arborio Rice
1 large glass of dry white wine
750ml of chicken stock (the best quality you can afford)
2 large/4 small courgettes
Approx 150g (a large handful) of Ribblesdale Goats Cheese, grated
2 heaped tbsps of pine nuts
½ a fresh lemon
1. Dice your shallots and soften over a low heat with a small nob of butter and a splash of oil. After ten minutes, add crushed garlic and thyme leaves, roughly chopped. Soften for another five minutes until translucent. In another frying pan, pour in the pine nuts. Set over a high heat and keep an eye on them.
2. Add your rice to the pan and stir well to coat each grain with oil. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes – when ready, the grains will turn translucent around the edges. At the same time, take the pine nuts off the heat and set aside.
3. Turn up the heat and immediately pour in the white wine. Leave to simmer and reduce by more than half, leaving just a tablespoon or two of liquid in the pan.
4. Add your first ladle of stock. Try to resist the urge to keep stirring. A little movement is fine, but messing with your rice constantly will make it more starchy, leaving it with a gloopier texture. When the risotto is ready, you’ll start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. When you move the rice around in the pan, it should stay in the same place, not spreading to the drier parts of the pan.
5. Repeat this process, tasting the rice after each ladle of stock. Use a y-peeler to create ribbons for the top of dish, five to eight should be about right. Grate the rest of your courgette. The rice should take around five ladles worth of stock – you want it to be soft on the outside with a slight bite left at the centre. Tasting after each ladleful will help you get used to how your risotto should be, so you don’t miss that vital point when it’s at its most perfect.
6. After the final ladle, your risotto should be able to stand on its own. If you piled it up, it shouldn’t start to spread to the sides of your plate, but maintain its form. If it’s too wet, keep it on the heat for a bit longer. Chuck in your courgette and turn the heat down to low. Add the grated cheese and stir through. Turn off the heat and let it melt for a few minutes in the pan.
7. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt to the risotto because the cheese, especially if you’re using Parmesan in place of goats cheese, has a high salt content as well as the stock. Serve up, top with courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts. To finish, I drizzled over a little Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil with Lemon, but if that’s not within your reach, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead – mmm zingy! Enjoy!
I served up my portions of risotto to the girls in the Le Creuset Tapas Dishes, part of the World Cuisine collection. I love these babies and they’re probably going to end up as my next purchase. Perfect for sharing style dishes stretching across all cuisines. Available in Volcanic (pictured), Cerise and Satin Black for £14 each.
I’ll be back on Wednesday with the simple chicken dish I made for the main on Yorkshire Day, but in the mean time, check out posts from some of the lovely attendees: Kat Got the Cream and Life by LDE – gorgeous ladies who just may have caught the Le Creuset bug.
Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.