Risotto Making at Carluccio’s

I once watched a TV programme in which Guardian staple, Nigel Slater declared that there was no greater pleasure than stirring risotto, a glass of wine to hand.

Now, that does sound nice and homely and Nigel did exude serenity as he stirred and sipped, yet I can think of a whole host of things that give me greater pleasure, for instance drinking wine whilst NOT stirring a risotto. The last time I made a risotto I had to call in back up after ten minutes as my arm was hurting.

Yet, as I headed to deepest Ealing for a risotto-making demonstration in Carluccio’s, I readied myself for an attitude born anew. It is a social skill to be able to cook tasty goodness.

The set up was not, as I had suspected, like GCSE food technology, where you stare at some butter and muesli until a teacher appears and tells you what to do with them. This time around the professionals were on show and we, the public, sat in rough-hewn lines before Lily, the South African tutor and Eric, the French chef.

They were an excellent double-act. Lily gave us a mini-education in amongst the recipe delivery. We learnt not to trust gleaming white rice as it has been treated with bleach. Instead, look for grains with the occasional brown hew. Meanwhile Eric was getting cracking with finely chopped onions prepared earlier. They fizzled in a pan, followed five minutes later by garlic.

Risotto can be made with whatever ingredients the maker deems fit – although Lily advised not to use more than three, excluding onions, as they will ‘fight each other’. Another key piece of advice is that a risotto is made or broken by the quality of the stock. It is canny to keep the water used to boil earlier ingredients (in our case: asparagus) but in case of emergency, a supermarket ‘stockpot’ will deliver a risotto worth its salt.

The best bit, naturally, was the tasting. Eric had prepared three (the magic number in risotto land) variations: asparagus; asparagus paste and lemon; and pancetta. He also won credibility by fending off a rogue element in the audience who antagonised his received wisdom that risotto should be served al dente. ‘Zat is just ze principle of risotto cooking,’ he shrugged, ‘you can make it however you want’.

Whether personal method includes getting others to stir, this – according to Lily – is a very good idea.

As a final flourish we were sent home with goodie bags that contained: one kilo of Carnaroli rice, a hunk of parmesan, Dadi stock cubes, one medium onion and a recipe sheet.

The demonstration, including as much wine as can be drunk in one and a half hours, costs £25 and took place at:

Carluccio’s Caffé
5-6 The Green
W5 5DA

Tel: 020 8995 8073

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