Vegan umami risotto.

After making this one, I can testify that folk wisdom about the need for butter and Parmesan to make risotto sufficiently creamy is utterly false. If you have the patience to perfectly caramelise the onions, the creaminess takes care of itself.

The idea here was to mix as many animal-free sources of umami flavours as possible, so my refusal to eat asparagus during winter – Peruvian, out of season – was temporarily suspended. I added pine kernels to compliment the mild nuttiness, along with earthy chestnut and portabellini mushrooms. Further greens in the form of fried kale and peas rounded it off nicely.

It’s important to prepare the risotto’s ingredients separately and in advance, and not only to preserve their independent flavours. Stirring risottos is tiresome and tricky to avoid sticking and burning at the best of times, but it’s made a lot easier if you keep the ingredients in the pan at a minimum until the very last minute.

As always, though, equally important to making or breaking such dishes is the stock. I used ten ingredients to empower mine. You could get away with less than that, but don’t go too low, and definitely stay clear of the Oxo cubes. When you see the rich green colour after half an hour of simmering, you’ll understand why.

Serves four.

For the stock:

1 white onion.

2 garlic cloves, peeled.

A bunch of parsley.

A handful of thyme sprigs.

A handful of kale.

1 carrot.

1 celery stalk.

1 lemongrass stalk.

1 bay leaf.

1 kaffir lime leaf.

 

For the risotto:

240g arborio rice.

1 large white onion, finely chopped.

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped.

1 garlic clove, crushed.

150ml white wine.

750ml vegetable stock.

125g fine asparagus spears, cut into thirds.

250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered.

200g portabellini mushrooms, quartered.

A handful of thyme sprigs.

50g garden peas.

60g pine nuts.

40g kale, very finely chopped.

150ml olive oil.

Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

First, prepare the stock. Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan, add a litre of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour. You should have around 750ml at this point. Discard all the ingredients and transfer the liquid to a measuring jug, ready to be slowly added to the risotto later, a ladle at a time.

Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for the risotto.

Heat 25ml of olive oil in a frying pan and toast the pine nuts for a few minutes until golden. Add sea salt. Remove the pine nuts to a plate for later, and add the same amount of oil again. Once hot, add the crushed garlic clove and fry the kale for a few minutes, until it turns darker green and slightly crispy. Also remove to a plate for later. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat 50ml of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chestnut mushrooms, before rustling the thyme sprigs over them. Stir well so the oil covers them, and sauté until they turn dark brown and release their nutty aroma. Remove to another plate, then do the same with the portabellini mushrooms, topping up the oil if need be. Season both with salt and pepper.

Drop the asparagus spears into a saucepan of boiling water on a medium heat, and blanch for two minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse in cold water. Season with salt and pepper.

Now, for the risotto. Heat the remaining olive oil in a saucepan on a medium flame. Add the onion and stir constantly, ensuring it’s fully coated and doesn’t burn. Keep stirring until the onion turns soft and slightly golden, releasing its sweet smells – around five to six minutes. Add the chopped garlic and fry for another two minutes, before adding all the rice and stirring until coated, around another minute.

Here’s where the hard and tedious but most important work begins. Pour in the white wine and begin to stir vigorously. It should sizzle and evaporate fairly quickly. Now introduce the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring constantly and ensuring it is all absorbed before adding more. Continue for around twenty minutes, at which point most of the stock should have been added. You may need to adjust the heat depending on whether the rice seems to be sticking.

Transfer one final ladle of stock, turn the heat to very low and begin to introduce the other ingredients. Add the peas, pine nuts and kale and stir. Add the mushrooms and asparagus and stir again. Once the thick consistency returns, turn off the heat and serve. Finish with salt and pepper.

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