I got a shock when the dogs came in from their morning ablutions this morning. Big face dog, Bryn, was peppered in snow. I looked up from my bleary eyed coffee machinations, and it was indeed snowing. Great!
Snow can be a real headache here in Wales. In 2010, my village was snowed in for the best part of two weeks, and we relied on a farmer from a well-known yogurt factory to deliver milk and bread.
Most people that live out in the hills have a well-stocked larder, as winter storms aren’t uncommon. If London had our weather, the media would maybe take climate change more seriously…
So today calls for some real comfort food. A flavoursome risotto, spiced with the saffron threads I diligently collected in the autumn.
Saffron crocuses aren’t hard to grow if you get the soil conditions right. It loves a free draining site, and can happily get by with low fertility. It must have full sun, especially when they flower in October. I have a small raised bed devoted to them, just a metre square, and for a short period of time they make me dizzy with pleasure. The picking is a delicate, meditative affair, plucking the three stigmas (female sex organs) from each flower.
Did you know…
- saffron is the most expensive spice in the world?
- has been cultivated for over 5,000 years?
- was introduced by the Romans?
- costs £4,000 per kilo?
- is almost exclusively harvested by hand?
- it takes 150 crocuses to produce a gram of saffron (about 500 threads)?
They need to be carefully dried; I have a dehydrator to do this, but a low oven (about 40C) or on a silicone sheet next to a radiator or in an airing cupboard will work too.
So, to the joy of saffron risotto. I love that the Arborio rice used for risotto is grown in Europe- it soothes my locavore sensibilities. Carnaroli, another medium grain rice is grown here too, and makes a much creamier dish.
Saffron Risotto (serves two)
Small white onion, finely chopped
25g butter or 1 tablespoon oil (nothing too heavily flavoured, a light olive oil will do)
1.25 litres golden stock
200g carnaroli rice
A glass of white wine
50g unsalted butter, diced
50g Parmesan or Grana Padano (for a vegetarian option) cheese, grated
Bring the stock to the boil. I make mine with left over veg saved for this: carrot tops, celery leaves, rosemary, shiitake mushrooms, thyme, fennel, onion and the green ends of leek, parsley stalks and a pinch of peppercorns, then add salt at the end to taste.
Strain the stock and add a teaspoon of saffron. Marvel at its golden colour change!
Melt the butter or oil, and soften the onion in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Add the carnaroli rice. Turn up the heat, and stir to coat the grains with butter.
When the rice is hot, add a small glass of white wine, and keep stirring until it has evaporated.
Start adding the stock, gradually. Stir in a ladleful at a time, until it has nearly all been absorbed.
The rice begins to soften after about ten minutes. Keep testing it as you add the stock. When the stock is all added and it is cooked to your taste, add the unsalted butter, cheese, and beat it firmly with a wooden spoon, until the risotto is rich and creamy.
Check the seasoning, then serve immediately.