Risotto, for me, is love-hate. I love how easy it is to make, and that once you’ve mastered one version you’re able to manipulate the ingredients to make several varieties; I hate how difficult it is to present attractively. Normally it doesn’t bother me how things look as long as they taste nice, but this weekend my boyfriend came to visit, and I wanted it to look appealing! This sweet potato and rosemary risotto is a perfect dish to entertain company with, because it is so full of flavour, and can be made as a main course or used as an accompaniment to something such as grilled chicken, if served in smaller portions.
In making the dish look as good as it tasted, I’d hoped the colour of the sweet potato would result in a fantastic orange hue to the rice, whilst the little bits of rosemary would speckle it intermittently with flecks of green. Instead, the rice looked looked as pale as it had done in the packet, and the only colour it had was the roasted sweet potato chunks that were served on top. I was sure that this could be modified, and so I set about finding out ways in which colour could be added to the dish. I found that vibrant risottos take their colour from either the spices of the dish, for example a risotto using saffron would have a yellow dye, or from making a puree of the main flavour – a pea and leek risotto recipe I found gained its green shade from a pea puree, whilst the leeks remained whole for presentation. I decided that the best thing for the sweet potato and rosemary dish would be to make a puree of sweet potato – the original recipe instructed to mash the sweet potato, and I thought that developing this further to make a puree would result in the better presentation I desired. I contemplated using stronger spices to gain colour, but I resolved that as a herb, rosemary would not be able to colour the dish without its flavour becoming overpowering.
The presentation of the original recipe was the whole roast sweet potato chunks served on top of the rice – I felt that this was still aesthetically pleasing, and so I only used three quarters of the amount of sweet potato for the puree, still reserving some for roasting. To make the puree, I boiled sweet potato chunks in salted water until they were tender, then drained and put them into a food processor until a smooth consistency was reached. I then added a small amount of butter and some dried rosemary, seasoned, and stirred until all the flavours were combined. I reserved it until the later stages of the cooking of the risotto, and then added for a better colouring of the rice; the orange hue I desired, arrived on the plate. Since making this, I have considered adding a small amount of single cream at this point for extra indulgence, although it must be noted that this is not a tried and tested part of the puree process! The remaining quarter of the sweet potato I chopped into rough chunks, and roasted with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and rosemary in the oven until similarly tender, before sprinkling on top of the rice directly before serving.
Risotto is actually a great dish to have in your repertoire. Once you get the hang of it, it’s simple to make, and can be made with so many different combinations. And with this version: if you have time, puree and serve to company to impress; if you don’t have the time, roast all the sweet potato, mash half and add to the risotto – it still tastes delicious!
- Arborio rice
- Sweet potato, diced (a medium potato works well to serve two as a main course)
- Red onion, diced
- Vegetable or chicken stock (I usually use 250-300ml per person – if more is required you can just add hot water!)
- Rosemary – either dried, or a few fresh sprigs
- Pancetta or smoked bacon chopped very finely width ways
- Olive oil
- Cheese – usually parmesan is advocated, but cheddar works just as well
- To make the puree, boil three quarters of the quantity of sweet potato you are using cubes in salted water until tender. Add to a food processor along with salt, pepper and dried rosemary, and process until smooth. Reserve and keep warm with foil. For the other quarter of the sweet potato, dice and roast in the oven (see instruction 2)
- If you have no time to make the puree, roast all of the sweet potato on a medium heat in the oven. Use a baking tray, and drizzle with olive oil before seasoning with salt and pepper and rosemary. Before the cheese and butter are added to the risotto in the later stages of cooking, mash half the sweet potato and add to the rice; place the remaining cubes on top before serving.
- To make the risotto, heat some olive oil in a large sized pan over a low heat, and add Arborio rice – I usually work by the quantity of a large handful per person, as the rice doubles in size. It is important to note that the more rice used, the better it will cook in a larger pan – keeping the rice on ‘one level’ during cooking ensures that half does not cook quicker than the rest, resulting in a quarter raw/three quarters over cooked meal!
- Stir the risotto rice continuously, until the edges of each grain become slightly transparent. Add the red onion and pancetta or bacon, and cook on a low heat until the onion begins to soften and slightly brown.
- Add a ladle of hot stock, and stir. It is incredibly important to add the stock gradually – as it is added, it is absorbed by the rice, cooking it. If it is added too quickly, it will cook away but the rice may remain slightly raw. As it is added, it should begin to form a small sauce, and the rice should be tender but with a slight ‘bite’ in the centre. Add ladles of stock as the previous one is absorbed almost fully – if you run out of stock, just use boiling water. This process should take around 20 minutes.
- Add the puree/mashed sweet potato to the rice now, and stir until absorbed. Keep on the heat for 5 minutes more to ensure it is warm before serving.
- Risotto is not meant to be stodgy, but creamy and ooze onto the plate – if yours is too stodgy, add a little more water. Once, the risotto is cooked, add a knob of butter, and stir. Take the risotto off the heat, and add grated cheese. Leave the risotto with a lid for around 5 minutes, to allow the flavours to combine and for it to absorb the butter and cheese for extra ‘ooze’.
- Plate up, and add the whole roasted cubes of sweet potato to the top. Season, and serve.
further adaptations: to make vegetarian, swap the chicken stock for vegetable or bouillon, and omit the bacon!