We've just got back from a quick sojourn around the Italian Lakes; Lugano to be more precise, on the Italian-Swiss border. If you've never been there, I would urge you to go- the area is of course, stunningly beautiful, the food is excellent, and the place is relatively easy to get to, being only an hour or so's drive away from Milan.
Lake Como amused me. We had pistacchio gelati, sitting out on the terrace of the excellent Villa d'Este, watching playboys zooming around in Riva speed boats (all varnish and chrome), and flying boats taking off from the lake. It was very Talented Mr Ripley- a throwback to the 1950's. I gather George Clooney lives in the Villa Oleandra nearby. I also got to drive a Lancia again for the first time in twenty years. A trip down memory lane this was, as the car I first learnt to drive was my grandfather's highly unsuitable 1969 Lancia Flavia: all fuel injection and retro teak dashboard with an interesting array of coloured knobs and satsifying buttons to fiddle with. Anyway. Risotto.
I've got a theory that the Italians keep back the best risotto rice for themselves. Has anyone else noticed this? A year or two ago, we bought some arborio rice from a little shop in a backwater in Venice, and my god, it tasted so much more authentic than the imported stuff you buy from Sainsbury's. Having said that, I've discovered that Tesco sell an excellent arborio rice under their own name which seems to give very genuine, top notch results, and I would recommend this without reservation.
One of the best risotto recipes I've come across is in Anton Mosimann's "Cooking with Mosimann". Remember old Anton? He was that Swiss chap with the moustache, who elevated precision to a fine art, and had something to do with nouvelle cuisine back in the 1980's. You don't seem him on television much these days, and I assume he's gone into semi-retirement, which is a great shame, as I've been re-visiting his books and finding his recipes to be comparatively straightforward by today's standards and of course, as you would expect, technically excellent. Here's his recipe for a simple risotto cooked with courgettes and thyme. The addition of turmeric thickens it up and turns it an interesting, yellow colour, although I would be tempted, by way of experiment, to substitute the turmeric with a few saffron threads instead.
Melt 25g of butter in a hot pan. Chop up a small onion into fine pieces and cook it in the butter with a sprig or so of fresh thyme. Cook until soft, but not brown. Stir in 200g of arborio rice with a decent pinch of turmeric, and make sure the rice is coated in the hot butter. Again, do not brown. Pour in 150ml of steaming hot vegetable or chicken stock. Stir like crazy. The rice will release starch. Starch is what makes the risotto creamy. Over a medium heat, carry on adding 250ml of hot stock in small quantities, until the rice has absorbed it. You know how to do this, I don't really need to tell you: add a bit of stock, stir until most of the stock has been absorbed, add a bit of stock, stir.
As you're stirring, mix in 250g of courgettes, cut into small diced cubes. I tend to cut up my vegetables for this sort of thing into fairly small dice, as I think, visually at least, it looks neater, and it will take less time to cook. It's important not to overcook the rice. The Italians like their risotto rice to be reasonably firm, yet bound in a creamy, fairly sloppy sauce. This is the great art: firm rice, wet sauce; and it's not especially easy to get right the first time you make it.
Just before you reckon the rice to be ready, pour in 50ml of dry white wine. This will stop the cooking. Stir in a knob of butter, check the seasoning, and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.