to serve four
- 320g (11 oz) Carnaroli risotto rice
- 2 litres (8 cups) homemade vegetable stock
- The chopped pulp of one large sfusato amalfitano lemon, plus 20-30 short strips of its zest
- 20-30 salted capers, left to soak in changes of water, then squeezed dry
- The leaves from a bunch of verbena, most dried in a very low oven then powdered, a few kept aside to garnish the dish
- 50g (1.8 oz) grated parmesan
- Olive oil as needed
Sure, you can cheat with the stock – but for Gennaro, proper homemade brodo vegetale made from leeks, celery, onions and carrots, plus whatever other cuttings and trimmings you have readily to hand, is in a completely different league from what you get when you dissolve a stock cube in boiling water.
But hey, for those who didn’t start thinking about this recipe days before – you know what? It will probably taste great anyway.
The other challenge is likely to be getting hold of a sfusato amalfitano lemon outside of the Amalfi Coast. Here too, some cheating is allowed – just make sure that your lemon (or lemons, if they’re small) is fragrant, organic, and above all untreated and unwaxed – you don’t want all those chemicals in the risotto when you grate it.
Now let’s talk risotto technique. Any chef worth their sale grosso will tell you that one of the most essential stages is the brief tostatura or ‘toasting’ of the rice in the oil or butter before the stock or water is added. Gennaro explains that this “serves to coat the rice so the starch is released more slowly”. In other words – alongside the choice of really good risotto rice, whether it be Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone Nano – this is one of the keys to preserving the integrity of the rice grains, rather than reducing them to a gluggy paste.
So after that preamble, here goes. First slug some good olive oil into your chosen pan – a wide, heavy-bottomed copper one would be a good call. Throw in the rice and stir for a minute with a wooden spoon (another good tip: never use metal utensils when making risotto). If this were a risotto that called for white wine, you would pour it in at this point and stir until it had evaporated before adding the stock – but here, you should go straight in with a cup or ladleful of stock (wine, Gennaro says, would detract from the aromatic power of the lemons). Let the stock heat a little, then add around two-thirds of the chopped lemon pulp. Continue adding stock as necessary, letting it reduce before adding more, stirring all the while.
Toss the capers in some oil in a pan until they just begin to brown, then keep them aside. When the rice is just half a minute from being ready – al dente, but not crunchy – take the pan off the heat, add the rest of the lemon pulp, the verbena powder, and a slug of olive oil, and stir to mantecare or ‘cream’ the risotto. Serve in deep plates garnished with the capers, the lemon zest, the whole verbena leaves, and a good sprinkle of black pepper.
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