After such a long and harsh winter it’s nice to see that spring is finally here, the days have got longer and the bitter cold of the past few months finally seems to have passed; the hungry gap of March is over and there’s lots of great vegetables starting to come into season. Something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time are nettles which need to be eaten around this time of year when they first start sprouting because the older they get the more tough and bitter they become. I was planning to make nettle soup with them until reading a post over on the L Mulligans blog – about some wild garlic they’d found in the Phoenix Park – gave me the idea for this risotto instead. I think there’s a nice contrast between these two humble, foraged ingredients and the richness of the butter and the cheese.
As you can probably guess from the very existence of this post, I wasn’t disappointed: there was a glut of the stuff growing around the entrance to the American ambassador’s residence and I could have picked a black sack full if I wanted too. As a bonus there were lots of nettles in amongst the garlic leaves too so I could just pick both at the same time. One mistake I made though was bringing thick gardening gloves to pick the nettles which made it very awkward to pluck the small, young leaves from their stems; next time I’d just bring marigolds or even thin latex gloves.
The thing I think puts a lot of people off risotto is the constant stirring of the rice but I’ve found you really don’t need to be obsessive with this, there’s not going to be a huge difference if you leave it alone to simmer for a minute or two while you prepare something else. I’ve also noticed the age of your rice can determine how long it will take for it get to the al dente stage so any timings here are at best rough guides.
Blanching the nettles and putting them in cold water is necessary to preserve their bright green colour, the longer they stay on the heat the duller it will become. Something to note as well is that the creme fraiche is not there for the texture of the finished risotto as it should be creamy to begin with, it’s just nice to have a bit of acidity and it carries the horseradish very well. Finally, instead of using shallots here, you could use the last of the season’s leeks to add an even bigger springtime flavour to the dish.
100g finely chopped shallots
50g finely chopped celery
200g carnaroli rice
100ml white wine
600ml veal stock
25g roughly chopped wild garlic leaves
25g parmigiano reggiano
50ml creme fraiche
15g freshly grated horseradish
- Blanch the nettles in boiling hot water for 1-2 minutes and when cooked, strain (reserving some of the cooking water) and plunge into cold water to stop them cooking any further. Strain the nettles again and put to one side.
- Melt enough butter to coat the bottom of your pan, add the shallots and celery and sweat over a low heat for around ten minutes being careful not to colour the onions.
- Turn up the heat and add the rice. Stir to coat the grains in the melted butter and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the white wine and keep stirring till it has nearly all evaporated.
- Lower the heat and add a ladle of the veal stock and again keep stirring until it has been absorbed by the rice. When that happens add another ladle of stock and repeat the same process.
- Keep repeating the addition and absorption until there is no stock left. This should take around 20 minutes.
- Three quarters of the way though add the the wild garlic leaves.
- Meanwhile put the nettles in a blender with the reserved cooking water and process to a puree.
- If after twenty minutes the rice is not cooked (it should be tender but still have a small bit of bite but be in no way chalky) just keep adding water until the it’s done. Likewise, if the rice is cooked and you still have stock left don’t add any more as it will overcook.
- Take the risotto off the heat and stir the nettle puree in.
- Add the rest of the butter and parmigiano reggiano and stir it through.
- Adjust the seasoning if necessary, cover the pan and leave to rest for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the horseradish to the creme fraiche and mix thoroughly. Season to taste.
- When the risotto has rested, divide between two plates and top with a dollop of the horseradish cream.