Risottos are great. And strangely enough, I was really only introduced to them when I was around 18, when I left to America on a gap year. Why it was never part of the meal rotation in my home I will never know, but rest assured, it is becoming a standard meal in my little flat in Rondebosch that I share with two roommates.
Why such an attachment to risottos? They are easy. They are delicious. And if you know the right cheats, they can be very cheap, too. What a win. Plus, you can play around with flavours. You don’t need to be limited by mushrooms and rosemary. Try leaks, carrots, bacon (although I’m not in the meat game right now), broccoli and basil, or whatever else you have lying around. Mushrooms are my standard go-to.
Now for the cheats. Proper Italian risotto uses special risotto rice, lashings of butter, and enough parmesan cheese to make Cape Town look like its snowing. Replace the fancy rice for normal rice (ringing in at R10 a kg at Pick ‘n Pay), replace the butter with a bit of olive oil, and instead of parmesan you can use any hard cheese (like pecorino) and a little bit really goes a long way. Or you could just not use any cheese at all and Voila, the recipe is vegan. Easy as that.
Another brilliant element of this dish is that you can make a massive pot and have leftovers to take to varsity for the rest of the week, and you can even eat it cold.
Right. Let’s crack on, then.
- 2 medium-sized white onions, chopped as tiny as you can manage.
- A drizzle of olive oil
- 3-5 cloves of garlic depending on how much you love the stuff. When it comes to garlic, I’m all in. Also chop these. If you have already-chopped garlic, a generous couple of teaspoons will do the trick.
- About a punnet and a half of button mushrooms. Any mushrooms will work, but these are the cheapest, and lowering the price is our main objective here. Also chop up these guys.
- About a tablespoon of dried mixed Italian herbs and dried rosemary. Obviously fresh herbs are the best, but unless you grow them yourself, they can get quite pricey. Dried herbs are great as you can buy them once and they last for ages. And they make such a difference to the meal.
- About a cup and a half of dried rice
- 4 cups of boiling water
- A vegetable stock cube
- Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Turn your stove top onto a high heat and add the chopped onions, garlic, and mushrooms to a big pot along with the herbs and the drizzle of olive oil. You don’t need much, just enough to cover all the ingredients.
- Keep stirring these until the onions are a bit translucent, and the mushrooms have diminished in size and a lot less lily-white than they were when you put them in the pot.
- When you’re confident all the veg is cooked through and the kitchen is starting to smell down-right gorgeous, you can add the rice, the water, and the stock cube.
- Mix this all around in the pot until it seems the stock cube has dissolved, lower the heat down to a gentle simmer, put the lid on and leave the pot for about 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed in all the water. It should almost be creamy as you stir it.
- Add salt and pepper to your taste.
- Serve up with some parmesan/pecorino, any hard cheese, or just as is, if you would prefer it without the dairy.