This risotto is very simple and cheap to make, makes loads, freezes well and is easy to reheat. It can be entirely vegetarian, which can be a handy thing to have under your belt if a vegetarian somehow gets themselves invited to dinner at your place. It will keep for several days in an airtight container in the fridge and the flavour improves with time.
For someone who is nervous of cooking, everything often seems like a big deal. One of the best things you can do when you’re learning to cook is not to panic and find out if anything can be done to correct problems as and when they arise. Also, if you slavishly follow recipes to the letter you’ll buy ingredients you don’t need, have a spice rack groaning with almost-full jars of herbs that should have been used five years ago and it’ll always seem like a far more complicated option than a ready meal. For this reason, I’ve suggested lots of variations for when you don’t have every single thing you need, which may seem obvious to some people but less so to others. if you don’t have something, search “what is a substitute for —” and then give the alternative a try if you can.
There are loads of good recipe books and resources for students learning to cook, designed to use minimal equipment at minimal cost, but this is the sort of thing I taught my daughter to make before she went off to university. If you can cook this, you can cook any risotto. Leeks and peas work well, as does butternut squash.
If you are going to reheat it rather than eat it straight away, don’t add the cheese. While it will still freeze perfectly well, the stringy cheese mess on the bowl when you microwave it will be an absolute pain to wash up by hand and would probably just fill a dishwasher with bits.
Don’t freak out: the boring parsnip
Parsnips are a much-maligned animal, although many Brits love them roasted, sometimes drizzled with honey, alongside a traditional roast meal. I think I discovered this recipe about ten years ago, back when I was getting a box of seasonal, organic vegetables delivered to me every week. For a few weeks I kept getting parsnips and I couldn’t just keep roasting them – my daughter didn’t even like them at the time – so I went in search of something new. I remember being deeply sceptical and I am not sure that I’d ever made a risotto before but I thought I’d risk it just to try and get rid of the stupid things and was very glad that I had. I have always thought that this was OK: a perfectly tasty, quick and warming meal but not anything spectacular, just comforting like a nice bowl of mash. To my daughter, though, it was something else. She says it tastes like Christmas and I give her portions of it to take to university, to heat up when she’s missing home. It’s kind of grown on me because of that, I think.
You might think that if you cooked sliced parsnips for the best part of an hour, that they’d end up being mushy, disgusting, almost textureless things, but they don’t. Parsnips are hardy creatures: even at the very end of cooking the centre of the slice will have some resistance, unless it’s very small. That’s fine, and when you reheat it, it won’t cook down to mush, although it will get softer.
How to re-heat: by adding some butter or a tablespoon of water, covering and cooking for a couple of minutes on full power, stirring, then another couple of minutes, or less if it sounds like it might be about to explode or you have a really powerful microwave. Carefully take it out and check that it’s heated right through, bunging back in for 30 seconds at a time if it’s not. Once it’s done and on the side, let it stand for a minute, then stir well and serve, adding grated cheese to each portion to taste.
Serves 4 – 6
1.7 litres vegetable or chicken stock
5 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
400g parsnips, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
5 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1.5 tsp dried
275g risotto rice (Arborio needs more stirring than Carnaroli rice, which has a higher starch content but either will work)
1 large handful freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
- I always use 2 Knorr Chicken Stock Pots and 1 veg one, or the own brand equivalents. The instructions say make up 1 pot per 500ml water but it’s fine to add the additional 200 ml of water to make up the required total amount.
- I would only ever make risotto in a non-stick pan as anything else would probably be a pain to clean afterwards. I use a Circulon Chef’s pan, which is a brilliant type of multi-purpose pan that every kitchen should have. I’m not suggesting you spend a fortune on one (but the description is good) and you can pick them up for under £20 in some places. Woks are deep enough but not usually heavy enough for a slower cook and you’d also have to have one with a wide base so they aren’t ideal for making this.
- I had one large white onion to use up and added a small red onion, which worked well. I often make this with a heaped ramekin of frozen chopped onion if I don’t have any fresh ones in the cupboard.
- I had a 500g bag of parsnips and used all of them, I didn’t need to increase any other quantities.
- Dried rosemary is just as good as fresh in this recipe. I would never go and buy fresh just to make this, although would use it if I had it in and I do plan to start growing it.
- Risotto rice comes in 500g bags and yet the recipe calls for 275g. Half the bag works perfectly well, even with the additional 100g parsnips so you don’t find yourself thinking you can’t make two risottos per bag.
- I used Arborio rice because it was what I had. If you use Carnaroli rice you can stir the rice less often. It’s got to be the uncooked grains, not quick-cook or you’ll end up with squidgy rice and raw parsnip. If you’ve only got frozen or the pre-cooked rice that comes in a pouch, just follow the original method until you get to the bit where you add the rice. Obviously, you don’t need 1.7 litres of stock, you maybe need 500 ml, so adjust accordingly. Also scale the quantities down to take into account that you have a smaller amount of rice. Keep the parsnip just covered with stock and stir every few minutes until it’s almost cooked. Add your cooked rice to the stock and parsnips and heat, stirring until it’s the right consistency, then serve and add cheese.
- While Parmesan is lovely, you can use any strong cheese you have. A strong Cheddar works well, as does hard cheese like Pecorino Romano. A spoon or two of Philly or similar soft cheese stirred into the warm risotto would also work well if you didn’t have cheese to grate.
- Watch the salt: bought stocks, cubes and jellies all usually contain salt. Parmesan is also fairly salty and it all adds up, so for this reason I don’t add any more when seasoning, unless it actually needs it when I taste it. It never has.
- The recipe doesn’t use wine, but about 200 ml of room temperature white wine would work well. Just reduce the amount of stock you use accordingly.
If you’re broke and can’t afford the £2.50ish cost of the bag of risotto rice, you can use long grain rice instead, you just won’t get as creamy a result. It should still be tasty, though.
1. Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan, reduce the heat and cover.
2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy, large saucepan over a medium-low heat.
3. Cook the onion until it becomes translucent, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium, add the parsnips and cook until the parsnips begin to brown, stirring occasionally. This should take about 10 minutes.
4. Then add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Add enough warm stock to cover the rice, onions and parsnips and cook until the rice and parsnips are tender, allowing each spoonful of stock to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep stirring occasionally.
5. It should take about 30 minutes in total for the risotto to cook. When it’s done, remove it from the heat, stir in the remaining butter, fresh rosemary and cheese, then season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
Method (Mine, with notes for the novice)
Makes 5 decent portions and another half portion which you could have as an accompaniment to something else.
1. Boil the water for the stock in a kettle as it’s much faster than bringing all that liquid to the boil on the hob, unless you have an induction with a turbo setting. Just get a large enough pan (I have a stock pot) and chuck the jellies in the bottom. Measure the boiling water into a measuring jug and then carefully pour into the pan. Bring the stock back to the boil, stirring or using a whisk, frequently, to dissolve the stock jellies properly. When the stock boils, turn off the heat and keep covered, apart from when you’re using it, which will keep it perfectly warm enough.
2. If I don’t have butter, I use Clover, which works just as well. If you’re going to use a spread, make sure that it’s suitable for frying or baking as they aren’t always and will separate and not heat properly. You can use olive oil instead: around 1 tbsp or so.
3. Keep an eye on the onions as they cook and keep the heat lower. You don’t want them to burn or caramelise as it will affect the flavour and look of the whole thing. Once you have added the parsnips, stir every few minutes to prevent sticking. They will eventually turn a nice golden colour, although this often seems to take longer than ten minutes. Pay attention at this stage so as not to burn them.
4. I’ve never understood why you needed to do the whole cooking the rice in oil while stirring for a couple of minutes thing. All packs seem to say that same thing about it taking 2 minutes. It gets boring. I’ve just checked and apparently toasting the grains intensifies the flavour and aids the release of starch which makes the risotto creamy. If you just gave it a bit of a stir, ensuring all the grains get coated in oil, before doing the next bit, it’d still be fine. Interesting piece on risotto here. It says never to use butter, only olive oil. So you could substitute that for a healthier option. I’ll try it another time and see what it does to the flavour. Follow step 4 of the method above. It doesn’t matter if you accidentally put in too much stock, it will all get absorbed eventually. You don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan so stir every 5 minutes or so, adding more stock as you need to.
5. The original method says the whole thing takes half an hour but I’d say it takes around 45 minutes as I may have the heat under the pan slightly lower. (I have a tendency to get distracted and don’t want stuff to burn if I do.) It’s perfectly acceptable to get fed up about 4 ladlesful of stock before the end and to chuck the whole lot in, creating a pot of risotto soup. Just keep stirring it periodically until you decide that enough of the liquid has been absorbed. Stop when you think the rice is done, even if you’ve sliced the parsnips a bit thickly and they’re slightly undercooked. If you’re serving it immediately then obviously keep going, but if you know you’ll be heating it again another time, you can afford to leave them slightly underdone. Cooked parsnips are soft, raw parsnips are not. If anything feels like did when you chopped it: keep cooking and stirring. Then follow the rest of the original method, stopping before adding the cheese if you’re going to freeze it. Trust me: stringy cheese on a washing up sponge, brush or cloth is game over: it’s almost impossible to remove.