Friday, 23 April 2010

Nettle & Yarg Risotto

Nettles don’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of this time of year and the bounty the season offers.

Tender milk fed lamb, wild garlic or the first crisp spears of asparagus, perhaps, but nettles? They’re certainly not at the top of many people’s spring essentials lists, or the bottom, come to think of it.

Long a fixture of many a hippy’s ingredient roster, nettles are gaining a following amongst some high profile chefs keen to follow in the footsteps of visionary cooks like Rene Redzepi who places provenance at the centre, and periphery, of his food philosophy.

With good reason. They are plentiful, free, brilliantly British, wildly versatile and, moreover, delicious.

Our garden is teeming with them. They burst through the earth in wild clusters at the first hint of warmth. Picking them requires some unbroken rubber gloves and a little patience but if the sun is out and the radio is providing happy company it is a pleasure rather than a chore.

Given their aptitude for wilting, it is a good idea to pick more than you think you need. Lots more. A pan full will magically disappear leaving just a vivid green layer and the memory of its volume.

Sunday was a lazy day and we picked lots. Feeling adventurous we made a nettle tea, which tasted like it was doing us good even after it had been pepped up with honey and lime juice, a nettle soup and even some zingy nettle pesto which was great on crackers with a little cheese.

But the best recipe was for nettle risotto – a clean yet hearty bowlful of springtime.

Since cooking at Le Calandre under the tutelage of Massimiliano Alajmo (the youngest ever recipient of the culinary world’s highest accolade: three stars in the Michelin guide) I’ve changed the way I make risotto.

Whilst there not only did I taste the best dish I have ever eaten in my entire life (a risotto flavoured with rose petal and peach – hands down the most incredible taste experience ever. Ever) I also cooked one of the restaurant’s signature dishes – saffron and liquorice risotto – which shows the levels to which rice and stock can be elevated. In the hands of a 3* chef, the humble risotto isn’t quite so humble.

Whilst this effort doesn’t quite have such high aspirations, the method remains the same and a departure from the rather labour intensive approach I used to take.

Dry toasting the rice over a high heat cuts down the cooking time from a frustrating 35-40 minutes to a shade under 15 and makes for a creamier texture as the starches are quickly released allowing the grains to retain some integrity and bite. A top tip indeed

Nettle and Yarg Risotto

A note about Yarg – Yarg is a semi-hard cheese from Cornwall. It is fresh and satisfyingly creamy. It is also wrapped in nettle leaves making it a perfect partner for this risotto instead of the more usual Parmesan

Half a small white onion, finely chopped
A clove of garlic, finely minced
15g butter

A large quantity of nettle tops, washed, picked over then dropped into boiling water for a minute or so. Once cooked, shock them in iced water so that the bright green colour remains, strain well then chop and fry in a little butter.

A handful of rice, per person
White wine
Chicken stock, warmed
20g butter
25-50g Yarg cheese, finely diced.

Soften the onion and garlic with the butter over a gentle heat until the turn translucent. Remove from the pan and reserve. Dry the pan and crank up the heat. Toast the rice for 2-3 minutes taking care not to burn it. Add the onion and garlic back to the rice then pour in the wine. It will bubble like mad.

Ladle in some of the stock so that the rice is covered, stir then let it bubble away. As soon as it looks as if it is too dry, add some more. It should bubble away like an active swamp.

A good risotto should be semi-liquid. Keep tasting it and checking the texture of the rice. When it is barely cooked add another ladle full of stock and remove from the heat. It will look too wet but don’t worry – risotto has a tendency to seize up as it cools. Stir in a healthy dose of butter and the cheese then spoon into warm bowls.

This one was finished with some blanched nettles leaves, a little more cheese and some spiced salt. Fresh yet slightly warming all at once.

Photos (the good ones anyway) by @photolotte


Becci said...

This looks yummy. I'm obsessed with risotto and unfortunately had a really disappointing risotto at a "gastropub" in bow last night. It was complete and utter mush, so much so that I couldn't beleive the chef served it. Shock and horror.

Also, I had an amazing double baked yarg souffle recently. Yarg = yum.

Great post. Cheers.

Celia Hart said...

Top risotto tips - thank you. Another way to use our home grown nettles, soup - yum! tea - strangely adictive!


Paunchos said...

Yarg backwards is the inventor's surname, Gray.

Unknown said...

This looks great - I've got a nettle and yarg tart up my sleeve (not literally)for 29 May on feastsandfestivals. After that nettles get a bit fibrous - I once made nettle soup in July - it was a bit like eating string...

Rick Bot said...

I was about to say you've proved yourself wrong, that risotto clearly can be photographed without looking like ... aardvark sick, was it? But then perhaps either @photolotte is very talented or nettle & yarg risotto is particularly photogenic, or maybe it's a pleasing mix of both. Either way, time to fish the marigold gloves from under the sink.

walter and me said...

This looks delicious! Actually, nettles rate highly on my list at the moment, having had a large bowl of nettle soup for lunch today. I often make risotto with alexanders and three-cornered leek (both freely available where I live in Cornwall). Do you know this site: I think you'd like it.

Eoin Magrath said...

Hi Alex, when you say dry roast the rice, normally I'd pop it in a pan with some butter and olive oil and fry a bit of colour into it first. The dry roasting stage is without the addition of oil I take it, just as you describe in the recipe? Or is there another step that was not covered here involving an oven?

Alicia Foodycat said...

That looks wonderful - we went foraging for nettles and wild garlic on the weekend but came up empty handed. I'll try again next weekend, because I really want to try this!

Jan said...

Looks yum! I've never cooked nettles before. Something I will have to try.

Sarah-Jane - said...

I've got FAR more nettles than I'd like ot have in 10 acres and have already started spraying the fencelines.

Still - I've got big nettle patchs here there and everywhere that I've not killed yet. I'll need to try picking and eating the stuff..... Especially given the neverending supply !

Elizabeth said...

Am I being silly? I thought nettles were stinging?

debby emadian said...

I love risotto but have always been a bit scared of making it....yesterday I actually bought a bag of Arborio rice for the first time and today I've just found your recipe....and the nettles are in season in my garden too! So I'm definitely going to try this out......:o)

Anonymous said...

Bubbling away like an active swamp is maybe my favourite instruction this year. I am a convert to dry roasting the rice. I've made nettle soup this year, this next.

Just Cook It said...

Thanks Becci. Bad risottos are so disappointing. No excuse for that is there?

Magic Cochin - Having just had our second cup of nettle tea I can see it becoming a more regular fixture. Purely for health purposes, of course.

Paunchos - Top factoid!

Liz - And according to Fergus Henderson they tend to have an, ahem, adverse effect on the digestive system if eaten towards the middle of summer, too.

Rik Bot - I was as surprised as you. I think it may be a mixture of the two. She is a talent with the camera, that's for sure.

Pebbledash - great link, thanks. It's something I've been wanting to do for a while. Perhaps a treat for the autumn

Eoin - it's the same method but without the oil. No need to roast in the oven. From what I can tell it makes the rice more 'receptive' to the stock meaning it cooks faster

Foodycat - Good luck with the foraging. hope you didn't come back empty handed again.

Jan - Do give it a go. They are free so nothing to lose!

Sarah-Jane - I suspect that they can be harvested, cooked and then frozen like spinach to see you through the winter though I've yet to try myself.

Elizabeth - The cooking process removes the urtic acid in the leaves which is what stings. Although I have seen a recipe for a raw nettle salad...

Debby - What a wonderfully serendipitous chain of events. Hope it goes well.

Thanks, Rachel. yes, we did nettle soup as well, surprisingly hearty. I've just made a sweet potato, chickpea and spinach soup substituting nettles for the spinach. Suspect you could replace in other recipes too. I'm thinking about a nettle saag aloo

CC11 said...

I shall have to pass this on to my nettle-fiend family, great recipe for an under-used ingredient.

marv woodhouse said...

great idea to use the nettles

Niamh said...

Ah yes, I got that toasting tip in a book on risotto that I bought some years ago. Adds to the flavour too I think!

I love nettles, always high on my list with asparagus. Love the diea of combinging with yarg.

matt said...

wow, just wow. Again, fantastic food and writing. What an experience too!

Great looking risotto. I am really excited to see your adventures this year mate - I reckon it is going to be quite a year for you.

marv woodhouse said...

just made this and added chicken cooked sous vide ...sublime