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An Italian masterclass

Running out of recipe ideas after a million days of lockdown? Northampton's unrivaled queen of Italian cookery, Carmela Sereno Hayes, spills the rice on how to dish up fuss-free, indulgent risotto and arancini the whole family will love.

Carmela Sereno Hayes

My family roll their eyes whenever I tell them it’s risotto for tea. It’s one of my go-to week night suppers, but even I have to admit that my chucked together stodgy rice and gloopy mushroom mess isn’t massively appealing to the hungry masses. That’s why I jumped at the chance to learn the secrets of risotto from a proper Italian buongustaia (that’s foodie, btw).

Carmela runs workshops and masterclasses from her kitchen, more recently via Zoom, to share her passion for the art of Italian food and has teamed up with Northampton Museums to showcase some of her big hitters with a series of online masterclasses. Try one of these incredibly tasty but easy to make rice dishes from Carmela’s kitchen for sophisticated but simple flavours that even the kids will love.

TOMATO RISOTTO

Tomato Risotto

A wonderful risotto pairing together the best of Italian ingredients, making not only a scrumptious risotto but also a perfect arancini (risotto ball) base. Serves 6. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1 x 400g tin tomato polpa, passata or plum tomatoes (not chopped tomatoes)
  • Salt and pepper, as required
  • Pinch dried oregano or marjoram

For the risotto base:

  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 banana shallots, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, minced or grated
  • Parsley, small bunch, chopped including stalks
  • 500g Carnaroli rice
  • 175ml white wine (or white vermouth)
  • 1.5lt vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper, to season
  • 2 tbsp. celery leaves, chopped
  • 8 basil leaves
  • 50g Butter
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 6 slices Parma Ham (optional)

Method

1. Warm the vegetable stock.

2. Add the tomatoes to a small saucepan and season, cook for 20 minutes. Add a pinch of oregano or marjoram.

3. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and tumble in the chopped shallots and celery, cook over a low heat for 7 minutes.

4. Add the garlic and stir.

5. Pour the rice in to the pan and stir. Toast for one minute in the soffritto vegetable base before pouring in the white wine or vermouth. Stir and allow the wine to evaporate. Sprinkle in the parsley stalks.

6. Slowly ladle by ladle add the stock to the pan and stir. Once the rice has absorbed the stock add another ladle of stock.

7. Cook the risotto for about 15 minutes then add half of the tomato sauce. Stir and allow the risotto to absorb the tomato liquid. Continue to add stock and the tomato sauce until the risotto rice is cooked but with a delicate aldente bite. Taste and check for additional salt and pepper, scatter in the remaining parsley and celery leaves.

8. Add the butter, Parmigiano Reggiano and basil leaves to the pan off the heat, stir and clamp on a lid for 10 minutes for the risotto to rest. This step is vital.

9. Fry the Parma ham off in a dry frying pan until crispy and aromatic. Drain on a little kitchen paper to remove any excess fat.

10. Ladle the risotto onto plates. Tap the bottom of the plate so the risotto falls beautifully into a single layer. Scatter over a little of the remaining parsley and an additional sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. Add a piece of the Parma ham to the top of each plate and serve.

ARANCINI CON MOZZARELLA

Arancini

I love leftovers more than the main event in many cases. Cook more and plan ahead, these risotto balls are ideal for simple leftovers. Arancini are no exception, an absolute favourite with my children and family. Delicious and soft with a hot gooey mozzarella surprise on the inside leaving a crispy breadcrumb jacket on the outside. Leftover risotto need never go to waste again. Serves: 4. Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 6 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 30g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 400g cold risotto
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 125g mozzarella
  • 4 tbsp. leftover tomato sugo

Method:

1. Add one beaten egg and the freshly grated parmesan to 400g of cold risotto and stir.

2. Beat the second egg and place into a bowl and add the breadcrumbs into another bowl, ready for rolling.

3. Take a small amount of risotto in the palm of your hand and flatten it.

4. Add a small piece of mozzarella to the centre along with a tsp of the tomato sauce and roll the risotto into a ball.

5. Roll the risotto ball into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs.

6. Deep fry until golden brown.

Serve with a seasonal salad.

SWEET ORANGE RICE FRITTERS

Orange fritters

Bank holiday is calling and these sweet, yet incredibly light fritters would make any lockdown garden picnic a reason to smile. Something sweet that uses risotto rice but that is not a classic rice pudding. These fritters can be made in advance for ease and freeze incredibly well too once cooked and cooled. The flavours are interchangeable so you could also use lemon or clementine zest in the rice batter and change the alcoholic notes of the sweet syrup with your favourite tipple. Makes: 20 fritters. Cooking time: 25 minutes. Chilling time: 1 hour. Frying time: 15 minutes.

Ingredients

For the fritters:

  • 750ml full fat milk
  • 160g Carnaroli rice
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 orange, zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 50g 00 flour or plain flour

For the orange sauce:

  • 250ml orange juice (use the orange from the fritters plus extra)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 30ml limoncello
  • Olive oil for frying, as required
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method:

1. Into a saucepan combine the milk, rice, and sugar. Stir.

2. Add the orange zest and vanilla. Combine.

3. Cook over a medium heat for approximately 20 minutes until cooked.

4. Stir the rice intermittently using a risotto spoon (wooden spoon with a hole in the centre).

5. Taste to check the rice grains for readiness.

6. Once cooked spread the rice onto a baking tray and allow to cool.

7. Add the orange juice and sugar to a small saucepan and cook over a high heat for 4 minutes.

8. Whisk in the cornflour and add the limoncello. Continue to whisk until slightly thickened. Set aside and keep the sauce warm for serving.

9. Add the egg yolks to the cooled rice along with the flour, stir well.

10. Whip up the egg whites into fluffy peaks. Fold the whites through the rice and set aside. The egg whites lighten the rice batter.

11. Into a sauté pan add the oil (2.5cm depth) and bring to a medium heat.

12. Working in small manageable batches add tablespoon amounts of the rice mixture and fry until golden brown on both sides. This should take approximately 5 minutes in total.

13. Allow the cooked fritters to drain on a little parchment paper or kitchen roll. Serve with a dusting of vanilla icing sugar and a small drizzle of the orange and limoncello sauce.

Carmela’s tip: Instead of making an orange sauce you could simply drizzle the warm fritters with a little borage honey.

Carmela’s fresh pasta range is available to buy now from The Italian Shop in Northampton and you can book a spot on her forthcoming Italian Desserts workshops on 17 April via Northampton Museums.

Find more ideas here

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