Growing up, I had an intense and inexplicable dislike for risotto. The nature of the dislike remains a mystery: it cannot have been texture, I love rice pudding; aniseed is the only flavour that I actively dislike, so it was hardly that. However, two things changed my palate's relationship with risotto. The first was the recommendation that I try eating left-over risotto, reheated in a frying pan. I loved it, so I tried it fresh. The second was having to switch to a gluten-free diet. I've now — somewhat torturously — succeeded in weaning myself back onto foods including wheat, but risotto had become and since remains one of the most frequently cooked dishes in my kitchen. Once you have mastered a basic risotto, its permutations are seemingly endless. That said, I wouldn't really suggest making risotto for more than four people as a main course, or six as a starter. It would take far too long and cook too unevenly. Yes, risotto's good for two.
This particular meal evolved after my mother passed on a recipe for lemon risotto that she'd found, and I'd wanted to try serving a slab of salmon slightly differently. Fish with lemon...well, I thought that it should work. I wasn't disappointed. This isn't a meal that you'd necessarily want, or have the energy, to knock up after a tiring day at work. However, it is perfect for when you want to make just a little bit of effort, for whatever reason.
It since transpires that the lemon risotto is based on a Nigella Lawson recipe, to be found in Nigella Bites. My version is slightly fresher and less rich than the original, which is mostly associated with writing down the recipe, losing it before I'd ever cooked it, and then concocting something from memory, but also because I prefer it this way. However, if you'd rather refer to the original, you'll find it on p. 43. It has also just occurred to me that if you wanted something even zingier than this, with a slightly reduced fat content, you could substitute the double cream with crème fraîche. I've not tried that, though, so please don't hold me responsible if it's hideous!
What you'll be needing for two very hungry or three reasonably hungry people:
- Salmon fillets — one per person
- Olive oil — a generous tablespoon
- Garlic — one fat clove, minced
- Rosemary — a small sprig, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil — about a tablespoon
- Onion — one, small-to-medium in size, chopped medium-fine
- Risotto rice — I use vialone nano, because it is slightly quicker to cook than arborio or carnaroli, but that's personal. I measure mine out using handfuls, but seeing as my hand isn't the same as your hand, reckon on between 75g and 100g per person.
- White wine — whatever you'll be drinking with dinner, a glassful
- Stock — in this instance, I'd use fish stock, but vegetable stock works just fine. Have about 500ml on hand.
- Lemon — just the one: zest it, then juice it
- Rosemary — one large or two smaller sprigs (you're aiming for about a tablespoon), finely chopped
- Double cream — four tablespoons
- Some form of grated cheese — if you don't have issues with rennet, then it has to be parmigiano. If you prefer, choose a hard vegetarian cheese. I'd use about a handful, so maybe 50g or so.
- Salt and pepper
What to do
Start with the salmon. Wash the fillets and ensure that the skin is scale-free. Pat them dry with kitchen paper. In a container large enough for all the fish mix together the olive oil, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper and rub over the salmon. Cover and leave to marinate.
Mix the lemon zest into the cream and set it aside to allow it to infuse. Set your stock on a very low heat. Prepare your grill pan for the salmon, and depending on how long it takes for your grill to heat up, turn it on to medium-high. You're going to be cooking the fish whilst the risotto is still on the hob, so make your life as easy as possible.
In a large, heavy-based pan, heat the olive oil and about a spoon of butter. Add the onions, and cook for three or four minutes until translucent and tender, but not colouring. Then add the rice and move it around the pan until it is coated with fat, and the grains are beginning to go translucent. That should take another three minutes or so. Make sure the heat is on a low-to-medium setting.
Pour the wine over the rice and stir until all the liquid has been absorbed. Next add the lemon juice and the rosemary, season, and stir. Add a ladleful of stock, stir until the rice absorbs it, and then add another and stir some more. Repeat until the rice is tender but is still al dente. This will probably take about 30 minutes, but don't be surprised if it takes longer. You might get through all of your stock and need to add some boiling water, or there might be stock left over. This isn't exact. The length of time between the additions of stock will increase. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat to help absorption, the rice will just stick and burn. Yes, you will have to be patient and you will have to stir lots. Maybe help yourself to another glass of wine? Don't forget to try your risotto to test for seasoning.
About 15 minutes before you anticipate that the rice will have cooked you'll need to cook your fish. Grill the salmon, still coated in its marinade, until its thickest, fleshiest part is just cooked and still moist; hopefully, the outside will be golden. You shouldn't have to worry too much about the fish, allowing you to concentrate on the risotto.
When the rice is al dente, remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon-infused cream, a knob of butter, and half of the cheese. Put the lid on the pan and leave for a minute. Check your fish. Hopefully, it's cooked. The risotto can wait a few minutes, but not much longer.
Dollop the risotto into bowls, and place the fish on top. Garnish with some rosemary and serve the remaining cheese on the side. A salad of rocket, spinach, and watercress complements the flavours and textures of the main course, and don't forget the rest of wine.