Milanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Watermarked Risotto

Risotto alla Milanese is a rendition of risotto which is just flavoured with saffron, and is arguably the most famous dish that originates from the Lombardy region of Italy. The Lombardy region of Italy is the richest of the twenty administrative regions of Italy and encompasses Milan, the second biggest city in Italy. It was here in Milan, that the Risotto alla Milanese was invented. The exact origin of this dish is unknown and is surrounded by many stories, some which contradict each other. The first known recorded instances of this recipe started appearing in books around the 1800s. Prior to this, recipes for cooking rice in Italy usually consisted for the rice being boiled, compared to the risotto we know nowadays, where rice is first cooked in a soffritto of onions and butter in order to coat each grain in a film of fat (known as tostatura), before deglazing the pan with white wine. From the recipes from the 1800s, we know that Risotto alla Milanese back then was cooked with stock slowly being mixed in, with the gradual addition of cervellata (a beef and veal sausage stuffed with cheese), and coloured with saffron. The dish today however, is made without the traditional sausage and is instead enriched with bone marrow.

The widely told story of how Risotto alla Milanese was invented begins with the construction of the Milan cathedral, now the third biggest cathedral in the world. In the 1700s, the daughter of Valerio della Fiandraleads (the painter of the great glass windows of the Milan cathedral), was getting married. During that time, saffron was widely used to colour stained glass gold as a symbol of prosperity. The story goes on to attribute one of Valerio della Fiandraleads’ assistants decided to surprise him by adding saffron to the risotto served at his daughter’s wedding, and the rest is history. This story is likely to be a folklore than has been spread by word of mouth over many generations and is unlikely to be true as records of the dish only appeared during the 1800s.

Watermarked Collections flowers

Rice first entered Italian cuisine in the early 1200s when the Moors (the muslim inhabitants of southern Italy), settled in Sicily. From here, the cultivation of rice spread northwards to the Po Valley river, which provided enough water for semi-aquatic rice to grow all year around. This spread northwards was made possible by the strong political connections between the two powerful royal families that ruled at that time, the House of Sforza in Milan and the House of Trastámara (Aragon) in Naples. As rice dishes evolved into risotto as we know it today, risotto started to be served as a first course (il primo). Risotto alla millanese however, is usually served together with ossobuco alla milanese (a dish of braised cross-cut veal shank) as a second course (il secondo).  

As this dish is relatively plain, the quality of ingredients used in the dish matters even more in making a truly exceptional dish. The most common variety of rice used to cook risotto is Arborio rice, while Carnaroli rice on the other hand is usually considered more superior as it has a higher starch content which is vital in making a creamy risotto. Of all the different estates that produce Carnaroli rice, the most sought after Carnaroli rice is made by the Acquerello farm in the Piedmont region. The Acquerello rice farm was first started in 1935 by Cesare Rondolino and rose to fame due to its use of aging and heating techniques to produce rice of superior quality. During production, harvested grains are aged under temperature control for 1.5 years, with 1% of the grains being aged up to 7 years. This aging process allows the rice to develop a deeper and richer flavour similar to aging wine. After aging, the rice is unhusked and polished down in a process similar to polishing japanese rice for sake. In a process unique to Acquerello, the germ layer removed from the rice is not thrown away, but instead slowly heated up and gently mixed back into the rice grains, combining the nutrients contained inside the germ with the white rice. This produces a white rice that has the nutrition of brown rice, while also being enrobed with a layer of starch. This mean that when cooking Acquerello rice in risotto, one does not need to constantly stir while adding stock. The stock can actually be added all at once, with the vigorous mixing due to boiling motion of the stock being enough agitation to create a rich and creamy risotto.

Watermarked Aquarello rice
Acquerello Rice aged for 7 years

Saffron, which is the key ingredient in Risotto alla Milanese, is the world’s most expensive spice, costing up to 7000 British Pounds per kilo, with Vanilla coming in as the second most expensive spice, costing up to 500 British Pounds per kilo. This can be explained by the amount of labour required to obtain saffron combined with its extremely low yield. Saffron is derived from the stigma (female part) and styles (male part) in the flower of Crocus sativus. The stigmas and styles are carefully removed from the flower and dried before being sold. As each flower contains 3 stigmas or styles, it takes as much as 300000 in order to produce a kilo of saffron. Thus making an extremely labour intensive spice to produce. This in turn has generated an underground industry of fake-saffron, using strands from turmeric flowers or bits of hay in an attempt to dilute genuine saffron in an attempt to increase yield. This is especially common in Iran, which is responsible for 90% of the world’s saffron production. Saffron production in Iran is made possible due to the low-cost of mainly female labourers, combined with a suitable sunny climate. Saffron itself grows best in the sun, with flowers grown in the sun producing lower quality saffron. However, saffron needs to be harvested in the early morning in order to protect the harvest from the heat and therefore workers start their days as early as 3 or 4 in the morning. 

The taste of saffron is like hay-ish iodine caused by its two main chemical compounds, picrocrocin and safranal. Some people describe it as floral and honey like but in my opinion the flavour of saffron is hard to describe, with nothing that taste close to it. If you want to taste true authenticity in your Risotto alla Milanese, there really isn’t a substitute. Saffron of course, is more famous for the bright yellowish-gold colour that it impart in food due to the high concentration of the carotenoid pigment, crocin, it contains. Not all saffron is of the same quality, with the highest quality saffron being grown in the Navelli Valley in Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila, as it as the high concentration of safranal and crocin. To get the most out of your saffron, it should not be added directly to a dish, but instead soaked in luke warm water in order to extract the flavour and colour from the strains before adding it to the dish.

My take on Risotto alla Milanese is the same base recipe you find everywhere, including the addition of bone marrow into the risotto itself, with the difference being the addition of additional bone marrow served as it is (not mixed into the risotto). This allows you to enjoy the flavour of bone marrow on its own and makes the dish more substantial to eat on its own without other dishes such as osso bucco. I also add some ikura (salmon eggs) on the side, as the burst of salty acidicness from the ikura helps balance out the bone marrow.

Watermarked Saffron
Spanish Saffron sold in 1g packets

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

  • Ikura
  • 50g Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 700ml Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock
  • 1 medium sized shallot
  • 250g 7 Years aged Acquerello Rice (or normal Carnoli/Arborio Rice)
  • 30g Unsalted Butter
  • A dash of olive oil
  • 100ml White wine
  • 2 pinches Saffron
  • Bone marrow still in bone (beef or veal)
  • Red Amaranth as garnish
  1. First, add the saffron to warm chicken stock to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. While the saffron is steeping, Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the bone marrow in a tray and salt with salt and pepper before covering each bone marrow with tin foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Reserve some bone marrow in bone for plating the dish.
  4. To start the risotto, scoop out the bone marrow from the bones and add this to the butter in some olive oil, heat the mixture before adding the minced shallots to sweat.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Acquerello Rice and toss in the butter for around a minute until well coated. (A process known as tostatura)
  6. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and continue to cook until all the alcohol has evaporated (when you can no longer smell alcohol).
  7. If using Acquerello rice, pour in 600ml of stock (including saffron strands) into the pot and set to a rolling boil. Once most of the stock has evaporated, use a spatula to stir the rice to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Taste the risotto and add more stock if it is not cooked enough for your taste.
  8. If using any other rice, add in the stock (including saffron strands) one ladle at a time, only adding another ladle once the previous ladle has been absorbed into the rice. Remember to always stir the rice constantly. You do not have to add all the stock into the pot.
  9. Taste the risotto once in a while to see if it is cooked to you’re taste. If not, continue to add stock to the pot and cook until soft enough for your taste.
  10. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it. 
  11. Just before the risotto is done, add in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mix till melted.
  12. Plate and serve the risotto with a tablespoon of ikura and a bone marrow still in bone at the centre. Garnish with red amaranth.

 

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Street Performer, Milan

Notes:

  • Making your own stock at home can be incredibly time-consuming so feel free to use stock cubes at home. Some of the best chefs I know use stock cubes at home themselves.
  • If you’re in Asia and can’t find risotto rice, sushi rice is a possible substitute for risotto rice.
  • The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  • You do not have to stir the rice constantly if you’re using Acquerello rice as the agitation from the boiling is enough to cause the rice to release its starch.
  • We cover each piece of bone marrow in tin foil the prevent the bone marrow from burning.
  • The goal of cooking the shallots in the fat is to reduce the water content in the shallots and concentrate its flavour. We are not trying to caramalise the shallots so try not to brown them.

 

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Elio Altare’s Barolo

Wine Pairing:

As Risotto alla Milanese is quite a rich and fatty dish, I would pair this dish with wines of high acidity that are lighter in style in order to balance out the weight of the dish. Wines without new oak would also be preferable to not drown out the taste of saffron. Sticking with regional wine pairings, for white wines I would suggest a Pinot Bianco with the not overtly fruity nature but high enough acidity to match the dish and bring out the flavour of the saffron. 

For red wines, I would suggest a good Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Nebbiolo tends to be in a very light style similar to Pinot Noir from burgundy, with similiar notes of undergrowth and red cherries. The main difference however is that Pinot Noir has relatively low tannins while the tannins in Nebbiolo tend to be overpowering. However, with such a rich dish full of cheese, the tannins in the Nebbiolo would definitely pair well. When considering a Barolo vs a Barbaresco, I would go for the Barbaresco, which is typically harvested a fortnight earlier and thus would be slightly lighter in style. Old style producers of Barolo would also be recommended over new style producers who tend to use new french oak barrels compared to the traditional large oak botti which impart less oak flavour over many years of use. The strong oak flavour will overpower the taste of saffron. A Valpolicella from the Veneto region might just work with this dish as it can be light and fruity but I would advise against choosing a Ripasso or Amarone to pair with this dish. 

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

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Wild Calamint in Florence

The Porcini mushrooms, as it is known in Italy, is more commonly known as cèpes in the French culinary world, and the Penny Bun in America (it is never called Penny Buns in the UK). It’s scientific name is the Boletus edulis, and it is part of the Basidiomycete group of fungus, the fungi group with contains the majority of edible mushrooms. As the name implies, ‘edilus’ in latin simply means that it is edible. In italian, the word Porcini can roughly be translated to “baby piglets”. Like all members of the Basidiomycete group, the fungus lives underground by growing mycelium. Mycelium are long white strains that grow outwards in search of nutrient in the soil. Along the way, the hyphae (branches of Mycelium) secrete enzymes to digest the nutrients in the soil, before absorbing it back in. The actually Porcini mushroom that sticks out of the ground, is actually the fruiting body of the fungus, with its sole purpose being to spread its spores. Armed with this information, when harvesting Porcini mushrooms, hold the stem of the mushroom as close to ground level as possible before twisting gently to break the hyphae. Do not pull the mushroom as this will damage the underground mycelium, while cutting the mushroom with a knife will cause the remaining part of the mushroom to rot, thus also harming the mycelium.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that Porcini mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with trees. This means that they share nutrients with some species of trees in exchange for other nutrients which they might be unable to find themselves. Because of this, Porcini mushrooms are usually found at the base of certain species of trees such as chestnut and pine trees. When harvesting porcini mushrooms and choosing porcini mushrooms at a market, be sure to check the underside of the mushroom. Similar to button mushrooms, you do not want to choose those that have an opened cup, where their gills are already visible. You would prefer to choose those which are still closed, where their gills are not visible on the underside of the mushroom. If the underside of the mushroom has becoming a spongy yellowish brown, the mushrooms are already overripe and should not be picked/chosen.

 

36529176633_b8ef9e97c7_k.jpgAnother key point to remember when gathering porcini mushrooms from the wild is that they should have a prominent white reticulum (veins) on their stem. If they instead have a pinkish reticulum, they are most probably the closely related Bitter Bolete, which while harmless, are extremely bitter and will ruin an entire dish. Along with this, remember that any Porcini mushrooms that have a red underside or a blue-ish thinge should not be taken as they are most likely poisonous.

Like all other mushrooms, it is preferable to clean them with a mushroom brush or a damn cloth. Never soak or wash them in water as they are water permeable and will soak up water very quickly, diluting the flavour and causing your mushrooms to go soggy. If the mushrooms are extremely dirty, it is still acceptable to quickly rinse the mushroom in cold water. To prepare fresh Porcini mushrooms, I usually scrape any grit and dirt from the mushroom before slicing them length wise. If the mushroom are fairly large and old, I sometimes also peel them to remove their tough outer coating.

 

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Violet Garlic on display at the Marche Aligre in Paris

Tajarin is a type of egg pasta that is traditional in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is similar to tagliatelle but thinner (~3mm). Both tagliatelle and tajarin are made from the same recipe which contains semolina flour, salt and eggs. However, they not only differ in place of origin, they also differ in uses. Tajarin, with its thinner width, is better suited for light sauces and delicate flavours such has white sauces and mushroom sauces. Conversely, tagliatelle with its high surface area, is more suited to heavy meat sauces such as a ragu. This being said, tajarin can also be found to be served with meat sauces in Piedmont. 

This dish consists of sautéed Porcini mushrooms in garlic and butter, served with fresh Tajarin and a sauce of Nepitella and reduced Porcini stock.

 

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Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

  • Fresh Porcini Mushrooms (sliced length wise)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Nepitella (Wild Calamint)
  • Mushroom stock
    • Dried Porcini Mushrooms
    • Vegetable Stock
  • Fresh tajarin
  1. First, fry the garlic in olive oil until golden brown before adding in the fresh Porcini mushroom and sweat until soft but still with a meaty texture. Add salt to taste before setting aside.
  2. To make the mushroom stock, reconstitute the dried Porcini mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 15 minutes.
  3. Next, in the same pan used to fry the Porcini mushrooms, add in mushroom stock to deglaze the pan, before adding on fresh Nepitella.
  4. Reduce the stock until thickened to desired consistency. To cook the fresh tajarin, prepare a shallow pan with boiling water, olive oil and salt.
  5. Once boiling, add in the tajarin and cook until soft but still al dente.
  6. Drain the tajarin and mix the tajarin into the sauce, before adding the porcini mushrooms back in the pan and mix everything together.
  7. Finish with more Nepitella. Fresh tajarin (or pasta in general) does not take long to cook, only a minute  or so.
  8. If using dried tajarin, the cooking time will be considerably longer. To help thicken the sauce, pasta water can be added to the sauce when reducing, as the starch in the pasta water will help thicken the sauce.
  9. As usual, salt is added to pasta water to help season the pasta. Mushroom stock can also be added to the pasta water to give the pasta notes of mushrooms.

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This dish is not a traditional Italian dish as it consist of a mix of Piedmont and Tuscan influrence. The use of Nepitella is widespread in the Tuscan region and is the classic accompaniment for Porcini mushrooms. In contrast to this, the use of Tajarin comes from the Piedmont region, and is rarely found in Tuscany. To me the thin texture of tajarin works better with this sauce, thus explaining my choice in blending the two styles.

Nepitella, also known as wild calamint, is an aromatic herb which is common is Tuscany. It is rarely used in most of the english speaking world, but is a common ingredient in autumn and winter dishes, especially in Florence. In my opinion, Nepitella characterises Italian cooking extremely well, as it’s taste is not only fresh and sharp, but has the flavour combination of oregano, mint and basil, three of the most common herbs found in italian cooking. This of course is just a description, and the flavour of nepitella itself is unique and somewhat on the floral side. A little nepitella goes a long way and should be adding to dishes with care.

 

Langoustine and Lobster Oil Risotto

Risotto à l’huile de homard et au langoustine

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This dish consists of a langoustine stock based risotto, seasoned with langoustine oil, tomato puree and parsley, before being finished with lobster oil and thickened with Parmesan cheese. It is accompanied by an assortment of seafood, with garlic fried langoustines and white wine steamed clams.

Langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus), also known as Norway lobsters or Dublin Bay prawns, are one of those ingredients with humble beginnings, but then rose to fame and now can be found on the menu’s of the world’s most luxurious restaurants. Langoustines can be described as a crustacean that sits somewhere between a prawn and a lobster. It’s meat is more tender and sweeter than a lobster, while being more refined and cleaner in taste than a prawn’s, thus giving you the best of both worlds. In my opinion however, a langoustine’s, major downside is that it had a rather low meat to shell ratio compared to prawns and lobsters, with the meat considerably harder to remove. Because of this, whilst I do not like to eat langoustines outright, I like to use their high meat to shell ratio to my advantage, making a langoustine stock that is not unlike prawn stock, but is sweeter and does not have the musky flavour of prawn stocks. The heads of langoustines are also particularly important, as they contain the hepatopancreas, which is the delicious yellow gooey stuff that is rich and full of umami and taste like runny egg yolks. The hepatopancreas in langoustines serves as the both the liver and pancreas, and is the equivalent of tomalley in crabs. I find that adding langoustine heads to a stock releases the hepatopancreas into the stock, thus making it cloudy. To prevent this, I separate the heads from the rest of the shells and fry them up in oil before crushing them to produce langoustine oil.

In my opinion, the core of a good risotto is the stock that you use to make it. The stock you use in a risotto serves as a canvas that you as the chef layer flavours unto. Because of this, it is important that you use a well-flavoured and refined stock, that has no bitterness or impurities in it. This being said, like a piece of canvas, the whole point of it is to turn it into a work of art, and therefore, the stock you use for a risotto shouldn’t be too forward in strong flavours, but be light and fresh while still capturing the essence of the ingredient you use as the base of the stock. As an analogy, imagine trying to paint a picture on a black piece of canvas. No matter what you paint on it, nothing is able to show though the black colour. The same applies for the stock you use in a risotto. If for example you use a brown stock for risotto (one which the bones and vegetables used to make it is first caramelised), any further subtle flavours you add to your risotto later on will be overpowered, while the taste of the brown stock will just concentrate as it evaporates and gets absorbed by the risotto rice.

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When choosing fresh langoustines, looks for langoustines that are firm when squeezed, without damaged legs, claws or antennae. Furthermore, they should smell fresh, like the sea, while also having bright shiny black eyes. The rice I use in this risotto recipe is Carnaroli rice, the most traditionally used risotto which comes from the village of Carnaroli in the Po Valley, Italy. This rice has a high starch content that is released when stirred, giving a creamy character to the risotto. If a high enough quality Carnaroli rice is used, it is possible to add in all the stock for the risotto at one, while bringing the pot up to a boil, as the agitating from the boiling water is enough to cause the rice to release its starches.

For this recipe, I use a special pot for cooking a the risotto- an extra thick copper Windsor Pot from E Dehillerin in Paris.  E Dehillerin is a cookware shop in Paris and is somewhat of a pilgrimage site for chefs all around the world. They stock their own line of copperware, both lined with stainless steel or tin, in varying copper thicknesses, all made specially for them by Mauviel in the Villedieu-les-Poêles Village in Normandy, France. The prices they sell their copper pots for are the cheapest and highest quality you can find, even cheaper than what you can find on the internet. A Windsor Pot, also known as an “splayed sauteuse evasee”, is a pot with a unique shape, whereby its base is of a smaller circumference than the top of the pot. Because of this difference in surface area, the heat applied to the pot is concentrated at the bottom of the pot, while the large surface area at the top encourages evaporation. This then makes this pot ideal for evaporating sauces, and in this case, evaporating the stock used to make the risotto. Of course this is not necessary to make this recipe and in all honestly, while copper cookware does have its advantages, they never have been, or will be a necessity in cooking and should be viewed as a luxury.

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While living in Paris, I visited E Dehillerin so often that the owner of the shop (the man in the picture), asked if I wanted to work there.

Langoustine and Lobster Oil Risotto

  • Seafood
    • Whole Langoustines
    • Clams
    • White Wine
  • Stock
    • Langoustine Shells
    • Fumet (fish stock)
      • Fish Bones (Cleaned)
      • Bay leaves
      • Fennels
      • White Wine
      • Black Peppercorns
      • Carrots
      • Onions
      • Lemon
    • Salt
  • Lobster Oil
  • Shallots
  • Langoustine Oil
    • Parsley
    • Garlic
    • Langoustine Heads
    • Any neutral cooking oil (not olive oil)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Parsley
  • White Wine
  • Tomato Puree
  1. To start of, begin by making the fumet (fish stock) for this recipe. Begin by cleaning the fish bones by either soaked them in cold water for a few hours or quickly blanching them in water.
  2. After that, finely chop the fennel, carrots and onions into small cubes (mirepoix), before adding them to a clean pot with the fish bones, herbs and lemon juice. Add in a dash of white wine before covering with cold water.
  3. Bring to a simmer from cold water before simmering for 20 minutes at the maximum. The stock should smell fresh of the sea and not have any bitter aftertaste.
  4. Once the fish stock has been made, pass it though a chinois strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove the bones, vegetables and any impurities. Next, to make the langoustine stock, add in the langoustine shells into the fish stock and simmer for another 30 minutes, never bringing the pot up to a boil. Add salt to season the stock to taste. Remember that the stock will reduce down in the risotto and the salt will concentrate.20792143554_c585b33cac_o
  5. To prepare the langoustine oil, fry the langoustine heads in any neutral cooking oil with some garlic and parsley, squeezing the heads to extract the flavour.
  6. Once done, strain the oil to remove the heads before returning the oil to the windsor pot.
  7. Add in finely minced shallots to the windsor pot to sweat before adding in the risotto rice and fry the risotto rice until fragrant of langoustines. Be careful not to brown the shallots.
  8. After that, add in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in the langoustine stock ladle by ladle, stirring constantly as the stock is absorbed by the rice and flavours concentrate as the stock evaporates.
  9. In the meantime, prepare the seafood by discard any clams that are damaged or already open before adding white wine into a saucepan along with the clams and langoustines and steam until the clams open and the langoustines change to a bright orange and pinkish colour.
  10. The second the clams open is the moment when the clams are done just right. Any longer and the clams take on a chewy texture. Discard any clams that did not open.
  11. When the risotto is almost cooked, add in the parmesan cheese in three separate stages, stirring it in carefully to make sure the parmesan cheese melts into the risotto.
  12. Stir in a small amount of tomato puree to add some umami before finishing the risotto with fresh chopped parsley and lobster oil.
  13. Once done, stir in the langoustines and clams from before. The wine left over from steaming the langoustines and clams can be either added to the stock or discarded. If the clams were not clean to begin with, I would recommend discarding the wine.
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Lobster Oil, Huile de Homard

The point of not bringing the stock at any point above a simmer is to prevent vigorous agitation of the stock which causes bitter flavours in be released and the stock to become cloudy. In this recipe I make a fish stock and then only a langoustine stock because boiling the fish stock longer than 20 minutes would cause the fish stock to develop off flavours while losing its freshness. The point of finely dicing the vegetables before adding to the stock is to increase the surface area of the vegetables, allowing them to contribute their aromas to the stock, thus the vegetables and herbs being called aromatics. Again in this recipe, I do not call for salt except when making the stock as the saltiness of the dish will come from both the seafood as well as the parmesan cheese. A non aromatic oil is used to fry the langoustine heads as the sweetness of langoustine heads is easily overpowered by the taste of an aromatic oil such as olive oil. When preparing the shallots, the finer the shallots are chopped the better, with the best risotto having shallots so fine that they technically almost melt into the risotto. The white wine is added to the risotto before the stock to allow the wine to evaporate, adding acidity to the dish, which balances the sweetness of the seafood.

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Final dish paired with Sauterne

I personally would pair this dish with a sweet wine such as a Sauterne or Barsac from Bordeaux or a sweet wine from the Loire Valley such as a Coteaux de Layon. I would not pair this dish with a red wine. Alternatively, a Chenin Blanc from South Africa would also pair well, along with most high acidity white wines such as a Riesling. I feel that the high acidity in a white wine would be able to cut though the richness of the risotto. The pairing of this risotto with a sweet wine might seem somewhat unconventional, but I personally enjoy the taste of fresh seafood, particularly that of the langoustines, which have an underlying sweet complex flavour, with the rich honey and velvety taste of a sweet semillon with underlying notes of peaches and pears. If one does not like sweet wines or aromatic whites, I would then recommend a Melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet which has a vague savouriness that is reminiscent of oysters that pairs well with dish. Alternatively, if one if willing to splurge, a good Chablis would of course go well with this dish, as it is a classical pairing.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

Risotto ai funghi morel con scaglie di parmigiano

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Ask any mushroom lover what their favourite season is and they’ll tell you autumn. Autumn brings with it all the tastes of earthy and umami rich mushrooms. From Porcini mushrooms all the way to the extremely sought after white truffles of Alba. These truffles, also known as trifola d’Alba Madonna, are sometimes called white gold due to the price that accompanies them. This post however, is not about Chanterelles or Puff Balls, it’s about Morels. The sight of a morel’s pine cone-shaped head poking out of the forest detritus can bring joy even to the most seasoned mushroom foragers and it is a sure sign that spring has come.

Morel mushrooms are not only unique in the fact that they are in season during spring, they also possess a unique shape and taste. Like any other mushrooms, morel mushrooms are prone to rotting and have a short lifespan. Because of this, morel mushrooms are sometimes dried or preserved in oil. Some chefs even prize dried morels even more than fresh ones as they claim that dried morels have a more concentrated flavour. In a way I actually agree with them, dried mushrooms in general have so many more uses. For example, they can be reconstituted into mushroom stock or added to soup as an umami booster and even after that, you still can eat the mushroom itself!

Morels have a very uniquely earthy and soy sauce-like taste, with the best examples being so concentrated that it’s as if they have chocolate undertones accompanied by the scent of a damp forest floor. Putting your nose into a basket of dried morels makes you feel as though you’re back in the forest. Fresh morels also have a firm sponge-like texture, with their unique pine cone shape and lattice structure. Outside of the wild, they are impossible to cultivate, making their supply limited geographically to where they grow naturally. All these traits combine to give them an eye-watering price, with the largest and most prized morels costing as much as black truffles.33136451132_07afe43c62_k.jpg

If you aren’t able to go mushroom hunting, fresh morels are occasionally sold in high- end farmer’s markets, though at a very high price. Dried morels are also available from stores online, but are so expensive that they’re almost not worth buying. Because of this, if given the chance to buy dried morels at a reasonable price, I highly recommend stocking up on them. Because of their irregular shape, morel mushrooms are very hard to clean. Luckily enough, morel mushrooms in general do not require much cleaning. occasionally though, it is possible to see a white substance filling a pore of the morel mushroom, indicating that a worm is probably residing underneath. Fresh morel mushrooms should be firm and dry to the touch. If you find someone trying to sell you morels which are soft and damp at a cheaper price, walk away. If you’re going to pay so much for morels, you shouldn’t lower your standard and end up being disappointed in their taste due to the condition which the mushrooms are in.

When cleaning fresh morels, never ever soak or wash them in water. Most of the compounds which give morels their unique taste are water soluble, which explains why reconstituting dried morels make such fantastic stock. This however, has its downside. Due to their hydrophilic nature, even briefly soaking the mushrooms in water causes them to lose their flavour. They also easily absorb water, making them hard to sauté after washing as they release the water they absorbed when heated.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

  • Dried Morel Mushrooms (to make Vegetable Stock)
  • Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Shallots
  • Risotto Rice (Carnoli or Arborio Rice, I use Arborio in this recipe)
  • Unsalted Butter + Olive Oil
  • White wine
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Morel Mushrooms (Optional)
  1. First, to make the morel stock, reconstitute the dried morel Mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 5 minutes, until the vegetable stock is fragrant and dark brown in colour.
  2. Reserve the rehydrated mushrooms to add into the risotto later.
  3. Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  4. To start the risotto, melt the butter in some olive oil and before sweating the shallots.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Arborio Rice and toss in the oil for around a minute until well coated.
  6. Pour in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in ladle by ladle of morel stock, stirring in the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, before allowing it to cook the rice. The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  7. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it.
  8. Just before the risotto is done, pour in the fresh morel mushrooms and finely chopped parsley, before adding in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mixing till melted.

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As the trait of a good quality risotto is one that is creamy but still with a bite to it, the rice we use needs to have a high starch content like Arborio and Carnoli rice, which are the two classic risotto rices. If you really are unable to find these types of rices, sushi rice is also a possible substitution. Carnoli rice is the more traditionally used rice for risotto, and it originates from the village of Carnoli in the Po Valley. It is generally thought to be the best rice for risotto, and thus usually has a higher price than Arborio rice. This being said, the taste and texture of Arborio rice is comparable to it. When learning how to make a good risotto, I feel that the technique used to cook the risotto to perfection, not undercooked or overcooked, is more important than the type of rice you buy. Therefore I recommend learning the basics of making a risotto before investing in expensive risotto rice.

Some people might feel that just adding the fresh morel mushrooms directly to the risotto to cook wasteful of such a fine ingredient, and I myself personally prefer cutting the morels length wise, before frying with some butter, shallots and parsley, before pouring over the risotto at the end. I also like to add my parsley midway through the cooking process, as I find adding the parsley at the end slightly overpowering. The white wine in this dish serves to add acidity to the risotto, which helps balance out the thick creamy texture from the rice and cheese. If using homemade vegetable stock/morel stock for this recipe that you did not preseason, the amount of cheese that you add to this recipe is very important as that will act as the main source of salt in this dish. If the dish becomes too cheesy before it tastes salty enough, you can always add a pinch of salt to the dish.

Other ways of making risotto creamy includes adding cream/milk to the risotto. Other than being considered sacrilegious by many chefs, there is also the risk of adding too much cream to the risotto, which raises the fat content so high that the risotto starts to stick, ruining its delicate texture. A well made risotto itself must be served hot, if the risotto cools before serving, the starch in the sauce will start to gel, creating a coat on top of the risotto.

Tagliatelle di basilico al pomodoro

Tagliatelle with a Basil Tomato Sauce topped with Buratta

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This is one of the simplest classic Italian pasta dishes to make. The sauce consists of a garlic infused olive oil, mixed with a tomato base, before being seasoned with a bit of oregano and basil. The use of fresh basil is highly recommended as dried basil is unable to preserve the true flavour of a freshly picked basil leaf. Oregano however is different. Oregano being a plant that has adapted to a Mediterranean environment, is accustomed to desiccation and thus preserves it flavour well. Dried oregano may arguably be even better than fresh oregano. Besides having a longer shelf life, dried oregano has a more subtle and balanced flavour compared to the sometimes overtly pungent fresh oregano.

A good dish consists of its many components being cooked to perfection before being assembled together. In my opinion, the pasta in this dish is just as important as the sauce.  I feel that tagliatelle works better with this dish as its larger surface area provides more area for the sauce to cling onto. When cooking pasta, it is important to remember to always add salt and oil to your pasta water. The salt helps season the pasta, while the oil prevents the pasta from sticking together. The duration which you cook your pasta for depends on how soft you like your pasta and the best method to use is to just periodically take some pasta out of the water and bite it to see if it has reached your desired doneness. Pasta should be cooked in a shallow pan with just enough water to cover the pasta so as not to waste energy.

Salt, when used properly, plays an important part in cooking, bringing out the flavours of the various ingredients. When used improperly however, it can ruin a dish. A skilled cook is able to use salt to layer on different tastes on each other, emphasising the uniqueness of each taste. The same goes for this dish. It is not sufficient to just add salt to the final dish. The right technique to use is to add a little salt to each component of the dish. If this is not done, the contrast in salt levels between the different components of the dish will make the dish taste unbalanced. For example, if the pasta water is not salted when cooking the tagliatelle but the sauce is perfectly seasoned, the taster of the dish will first taste the delicious sauce, but will bite into a horribly bland tagliatalle, making the sauce seem overtly salty and acidic.

Tagliatelle di basilico al pomodoro

  • olive oil
  • Minced Cloves of Garlic
  • Tomato Sauce (Tomato Puree, Tomato Pasatta and Fresh Chopped Tomatoes)
  • Dried Oregano
  • Fresh Basil
  • Fresh or Dried Tagliatelle
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Burrata or Mozerella Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Before mincing the garlic, remove the skins by crushing the garlic between your palm and the chopping board or alternatively using a knife to crush the garlic.
  2. Fry the minced garlic in olive oil until golden brown and fragrant.
  3. Add in a little tomato puree to the mixture and fry for a minute or two before adding the tomato pasata.
  4. Let it reduce for a few minutes before adding half the fresh basil and the dried oregano.
  5. Finally, add the freshly chopped tomatoes into the mixture, squeezing the tomatoes against the side of the pot to release its juices.
  6. Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon or until desired thickness before mixing with the cooked tagliatelle.
  7. Top the mixture with the remaining fresh basil, burrata cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Grind fresh black pepper onto the cheese before serving warm, allowing the heat from the pasta and sauce to melt the cheese naturally.

21278149108_fe44ba4697_k.jpgThe point of frying the garlic in oil until golden brown is to caramelise the garlic while also infusing the olive oil with the taste of the garlic. It is important to first crush (bruise) the garlic before mincing it as it releases the garlic’s aromatic compounds better. You could also just use plain olive oil and season the pasta dish with garlic powder. Garlic infused olive oil can also be added to enhance the taste of garlic in the dish. Half the fresh basil is added to the dish to impart the taste of basil into the dish as a layered underlying flavour, while the remaining fresh basil is added at the end not only to make the dish visually appealing, but also to allow the fragrance of the basil to be smelt before the dish is even consumed.

Burrata cheese in this recipe can be substituted with fresh mozzarella cheese as burrata cheese in itself is a mozzarella skin stuffed with mozerella cheese mixed with cream. I personally prefer burrata cheese as it is creamier and it gives the dish a unique characteristic.

When making the tomato sauce, the various desirable traits of a good tomato sauce are sadly inversely related to each other. To achieve the thick savory and umami rich flavour of tomatoes, one needs to stew tomatoes for a long period of time. In contrast to this, the act of cooking down tomatoes removes the refreshing taste of acidity of freshly picked tomatoes. To balance this, I recommend the addition of tomato puree to the sauce, which removes the need to stew fresh tomatoes for at least an hour, before adding fresh tomatoes right at the end to give your sauce its refreshing bite.

In the end, you yourself ultimately get to decide how complicated a dish you want it to be, ranging from simply frying some garlic and adding canned tomato sauce before serving with pasta and some grated cheddar cheese, or going all out and adding a touch of  basil oil at the end along with taking the effort to source burrata cheese.