I’m a big fan of risotto. A naturally gluten-free meal that you can almost perpetually re-invent (within certain parameters, as outlined below!). When I’m trying to think of something vegetarian to cook, which we try to do at least twice a week, I generally fall back on a risotto. Wild mushroom is a particular favourite: a comforting, earthy and almost meaty dish, served with lashings of grated Parmesan and that oh-so-British addition of a green side salad (oh, heresy!). It’s an apparently simple dish which seems to have signed the death warrant of many a Masterchef hopeful, either because it’s been served with something that has no right to co-exist on the same plate (like a fillet of chicken – oh double heresy!), or the contestant has over-stepped the boundaries of what is considered ‘cutting edge’ by adding strawberries and making it into a pudding (and thrice heresy!). We watch as Greg and John put down their forks and meet the gaze of the hapless cook with pained expressions… Over-cooking is what seems to do for most of them though. Which I can’t understand really because I’m not the most patient of cooks, when standing and stirring is involved, and I’m usually looking for some way or another to speed up the process or delegate it to another electrical appliance. I have done a fair amount of internet research to see whether stirring is strictly necessary and the answer seems to be ‘yes’ (at least as far as Italian chef Gino Locatelli and his mother are concerned, and that’s good enough for me). I know that cooking risotto in the oven is possible but something inside me seems to baulk at that. Polenta, yes, risotto, no. So I stand and stir. But as soon as I can get my tooth through it, it’s off the stove and into the bowls.

This take on risotto is inspired by a recipe for risotto con gli asparagi recorded by Claudia Roden in her book, The Food of Italy. I love asparagus risotto but asparagus isn’t in season right now so I thought I’d do my bit for the environment and try something else. Like Tenderstem broccoli…which I have subsequently found out is also not to in season right now (ahem!). Tenderstem broccoli is a beautifully delicate and elegant vegetable which is, apparently, bred by crossing broccoli with Chinese kale. It has, as its name suggests, tender stems which can be eaten in their entirety and I always think of it in the same terms as asparagus. You would think that with the broccoli stems being cooked for so long that they would take on that rather metallic flavour that overcooked broccoli usually has (when it’s all mushy and khaki-coloured) but it absolutely doesn’t.

Naturally gluten-free Tenderstem broccoli risotto

 Serves 2

300g Tenderstem broccoli
750ml vegetable stock (or boiling water made up with 2 tsp Swiss Marigold Bouillon powder)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
150g Arborio risotto rice
250ml white wine (optional, but in that case, you will need a full litre of stock)
35g Grana Padano or Parmesan, grated plus extra for serving

You will also need a large frying pan (skillet) or sauté pan

Wash the Tenderstem broccoli. Cut off the florets (about 4-5cm from the tips) and set them aside. Chop the remaining stalks into 2cm lengths. Bring the vegetable stock up to the boil and add the stalks. Boil until they are very tender (about 8 minutes). Meanwhile place the florets in a steamer over boiling water and steam until only just tender. This should only take about 3 minutes and the florets should be bright green. Refresh them in cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook and set aside. When the stalks are done, blend them with a hand blender along with the stock in the saucepan.* Return to the heat and bring back up to a bare simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a low to medium flame and add the chopped onions. Fry for several minutes until softened, pale and translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue to fry gently for another couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to thoroughly coat the grains with oil. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring all the while. When the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add the stock containing the creamed broccoli stalks a ladleful at a time, stirring until it has all been absorbed before adding the next. After adding the final ladleful, stir in the grated cheese and gently fold in the steamed broccoli florets. Stir gently until the stock has been absorbed and you are left with creamy and al dente rice. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more Grana Padano or Parmesan.

*Blending hot liquids in a goblet blender can be quite dangerous. If you’re going to do this, I would suggest that you wait until the stock and stems have cooled before blending.

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