The ethos of terroir has always effortlessly navigated me through the culinary world in the pursuit of flavour, and has never let me down! There is an experiential depth inherent in approaching food in this way. Flavour goes beyond just the taste, bringing a connection to that place and moment in time.
Many cultures around the world embrace this, perhaps one that initially comes to mind for many is Italy. A cuisine and culture that is driven, guided & motivated by passion.
Italian cuisine is not made to be harnessed by the shackles of a recipe, Italian food is very much an experiential process, a love letter to food.
My favourite example of this is making risotto, a process that demands attention & commitment, then in return an experience for the senses in a speedy heart warming meal.
I was first taught to make risotto during my time at Leith’s by the infectiously passionate Ursula Ferrigno, a teaching that has stuck with me these many years. Risotto is a sensory experience, listen to the rice and it will guide you.
There are no quantities or timings, it takes what it takes and it’s ready when it’s ready.
The key is maintaining a consistently high temperature, coaxing the unctuous starch out of the grains. It must be Carnaroli or Arborio rice, laden with starch. The pan must be shallow and wide for a consistent temperature. The stock must be hot and packed with flavour, not over powering or dominant but good enough to drink from a mug.
Begin by gently softening a shallot or onion with garlic in a small puddle of oil before bringing the heat & toasting a handful of rice per person.
Wait for the rice to protest, a gentle crackle as you move the grains around the pan, calling out for relief. Answer the call with a ladle of stock, hearing the appreciation as the grains hiss & sizzle.
Watch & listen.
Wait for all the liquid to be absorbed & the sizzling to call out for more, then another ladle of stock.
Be attentive, waiting for the rice to call out before feeding it with hot stock. Patiently watching the sauce develop, coating each grain, quenching the thirst for hot stock one ladle at a time.
Watching the grains transform from an opaque white to translucent creamy colour.
Until a point where the rice is content, not shouting out but calmly bubbling in a bath of thick stock. The grains translucent, all apart from a tiny speck of white at their core. The bite of al dente perfection.
Off the heat & in with a generous 3 fingered pinch of cheese per person to take that sauce from unctuous to decadent. Season liberally however you please.
A sensory masterpiece. A comforting food.
Italians will say it has to be olive oil of the highest quality, it has to be parmesan, depending on where in Italy they are from… and here lies the key. Risotto is deeply rooted in Italian culinary culture, its regional authenticity passionately defended, yet each region tweaks the ingredients to suit it terroir. Butter in the north, olive oil towards the south. Why? Simple, there’re no olive trees in the north! This continues around the varied regions of Italy, from the use of squid ink & seafood in Veneto, bone marrow & saffron in Milan and so on.
What is clear is that regional seasonal availability guides the ingredients, the cooks and the culture.
I use Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil, an excellent high quality oil full of flavour and found almost on my doorstep. Roast squash, fennel and celery tops all grown a Sandy Lane Farm, a stones throw from home. Then finished with a generous handful of Witheridge in Hay. A moist, sharp cheddar style cheese aged in hay and made on the edge of the Chiltern hills, not far from home. It’s flavour tangy & nutty with a floral finish.
A symphony of local, seasonal delicious ingredients played to an Italian heartbeat.
Heritage | Environment | Craft
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