"The Rolls Royce of Rice."

As a chef, I’m more than a little obsessive about finding the best ingredients for my kitchen; I also believe that we as cooks have a duty to really get to know and understand where those ingredients come from, how they are made and why they are so special.

One of the ingredients that I’m obsessing about right now is Acquerello rice.
It’s organic, aged Italian carnaroli rice. That's right, aged!
It is grown using a crop rotation system and is the only rice variety sown on the farm, to avoid the possibility of inadvertent hybridisation with other varieties. After the harvest, the grains of Acquerello carnaroli are aged from one to three years, a process which, by allowing the rice to “breathe”, optimising its qualities and characteristics. Aging renders starch, proteins and vitamins less water-soluble, improving the consistency of the grains and enabling them to absorb more cooking liquid. When cooked, the grains become bigger, firmer, do not
stick together – and taste even better. Acquerello produces 500 tons of Carnaroli rice a year, and while the rice sells for about double the price of other risotto rice’s, it has become the go-to choice for many of the world's top chefs including Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse who named it, “The rolls Royce of Rice”.

The science behind the perfect risotto

I love the texture of Acquerello in creamy rice dishes and off course, Risotto. For some strange reason, risotto has a reputation for being difficult and time-consuming to make when in fact the reverse is true. Making a good risotto is rather like riding a bicycle: It takes a little bit of practice to begin with, and a certain amount of concentration thereafter, but in essence it’s such a simple dish and always a joy to make. A basic risotto is just rice, stock and Parmesan cheese. I always start my risotto with finely chopped onion, crushed garlic and fresh thyme sweated off in a little olive oil or butter. But before you attempt this simple, Italian classic, it’s worth understanding just a little science behind the perfect, silky smooth risotto. Two very basic rules apply when making risotto; it needs continual stirring with a wooden spoon and the liquid or stock should be hot, full flavoured and added slowly to help dissolve the starch. Basically, your job is to extract as much starch as possible from every, single grain of rice to achieve a delicious, creamy risotto and you need to create a little friction and steam in the saucepan to achieve that. If you add too much liquid at once, the grains are just floating and swimming around in the stock when they need to be in constant contact and rubbing against each other to release all that wonderful starch hidden in the centre of each grain. Without getting too technical, the most nutritious part of the grain is the seed and its endosperm containing the starch. If you add cold liquid to a risotto the endosperm closes up and the finished dish will never be right as the more starch released, the more creamier the final risotto will be.
The flavour combinations for risotto are endless so you can be adventurous and add all the ingredients you like.  Try anything from pumpkin, beetroot to saffron, wild mushrooms and asparagus. One of my new favourites is pollen & capers.
Risotto’s are also very sensitive to timing, and have to be served immediately to display their rich, creamy texture that a good home made risotto will exude. Happy cooking!

White risotto with pollen and capers

Ingredients:  serves 4

1l                     vegetable or chicken stock 
1                      sprig fresh thyme
100g               finely grated parmesan
300g               risotto rice (preferably

1tbsp              mascarpone
1tbsp              olive oil
50g                 unsalted butter
2                      shallots chopped finely
1                      crushed clove of garlic
1 tbsp             pollen
1 tbsp             capers

Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a thick-bottomed pan, heat and add shallots, garlic and thyme. Sweat gently until the shallots start to break down.
Add the rice and stir. Add a little hot stock until the rice is just covered; continue to stir until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Over a medium heat, continue to add the stock gradually and stir until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice has softened. Make sure the risotto is loose and not too thick. Add the butter, mascarpone, grated Parmesan, pollen, capers and season to taste. The risotto should be light and creamy. 
Serve immediately.


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