Ramona Andrews shares recipes for a spring risotto and irresistible arancini

We've got two delicious recipes to try this week from our resident food blogger Ramona Andrews. She's rustled up a simple seasonal spring risotto and her irresistible arancini...

We all need a reliable risotto recipe that's willing to bend to the seasons. Right now, we're talking spring onions and - if you go down to the woods in time - lovely wild garlic, a great first-foray-into-foraging ingredient given that the leaves are easy as anything to identify, just from the scent alone. Once the wild garlic and bluebells appear, we are (in theory) into sunnier territory. Here comes the sun!

The better the stock, the better the risotto. In this recipe, I've added the spring onion trimmings to the stock to boost its flavour. I also like to add other vegetable trimmings - carrot peel, mushroom stems, onion tops and skins, or parsley stems to name a few. Fill up a ziplock bag in the freezer with your peelings over a few weeks until you have plenty. Let the stock simmer with the vegetables for as long as you have time for, then drain.

Once peas come into season, you can go fresh rather than frozen. If you're growing your own, cut off a few pea shoots for garnish. This duo of recipes is all about loving your leftovers - as well as making use of veg trimmings in the risotto, you can use any leftover rice to make arancini, deep fried rice balls, served here with a spicy tomato sauce.

Ramona's Spring Risotto

Ramona's Spring Risotto

Vary this basic recipe as more greens come into season in the spring. Broad beans, fresh peas, pea shoots and the mighty British asparagus once it's on the shelves will all do the trick.

Serves 4:

  • 6 spring onions
  • 1.2 litres of vegetable stock (shop-bought or homemade or enriched with added vegetable trimmings)
  • dash oil
  • generous knob of butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 350g risotto rice
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 1 small lemon, zest only, plus a generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • 150g feta, cubed or crumbled
  • handful wild garlic
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:

  • 2 tbsp pine nuts (optional)
  • small handful of chopped mint
  • extra virgin olive oil⁣

Slice the spring onions, separating the white and green parts. Add any trimmings to the warm stock. You can also add other reserved vegetable trimmings here if you have them. If you are adding other vegetable trimmings, simmer the stock for at least 30 minutes to get maximum flavour. If not, you can just use shop-bought stock and that's fine too.

Heat a dash of oil and the butter in a large heavy pan, add the white part of the spring onion and fry until softened. Add the garlic and stir together. Tip the rice into the pan and cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time to stop the rice from scorching - heating it through helps the rice absorb the other flavours.

Pour the wine in and cook for a few minutes to absorb some of the liquid, then start to add the warm stock (but not the vegetable trimmings!), a few ladles at a time and stirring all the time, making sure you move all the rice at the base of the pan. Continue cooking over a medium heat, adding the stock gradually.

After about 15 minutes, tip in the frozen peas, stir to heat them through and continue to simmer, adding more stock as needed. Add the lemon zest and most of the feta, retaining a little to garnish. The risotto should take about 20 minutes in total to cook - taste it and it should be soft, yet firm and creamy. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the green spring onion tops, most of the wild garlic (reserve a little for garnish) and the lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

For the garnish, if you are using pine nuts, dry fry them in a hot pan until nicely toasted and brown.

Serve the risotto garnished with pine nuts (if using), chopped mint, reserved wild garlic and feta, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Ramona's Arancini

Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil when deep frying these irresistible little rice bites. If you have any leftover sauce, carry on the leftovers chain and use it in a pasta sauce the next day!

Makes 10 small arancini:

  • For the arancini
  • 500g leftover risotto
  • handful of chopped fresh basil
  • 100g well-drained mozzarella
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 6 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
  • vegetable oil, for deep-fat frying

For the spicy tomato sauce:

  • dash olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp crushed chilli flakes (or more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • few basil leaves, sliced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the arancini, tip the risotto into a mixing bowl and add the chopped basil. Cut the mozzarella into rough 1cm cubes (you will need one cube for each arancini). Scoop out a tenth of the rice mixture into your hand and press a piece of cheese into the middle, shape into a neat, tight ball and set aside on a clean surface. Continue to use up all the mozzarella and rice, and then wash your hands.

Meanwhile, for the spicy tomato sauce, heat a dash of oil over a low heat and fry the onion gently until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the tomato purée and cook for another few more minutes. Stir in the paprika and crushed chilli flakes, vinegar and sugar. Stir well, then tip in the chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20-25 minutes or so until it has thickened to a sauce consistency. Add a splash of water if the sauce thickens too much. Stir in the basil leaves, then taste and add any salt, pepper or more chilli flakes to taste.

Finish the arancini while the sauce is simmering: season the flour with salt and freshly ground black pepper in a large plate. Put the eggs into a bowl and lightly beat them and place the breadcrumbs in another bowl.

Roll each rice ball first in the flour, then the egg, and then the breadcrumbs to cover. Heat the oil in a large heavy pan (or alternatively a deep fat fryer). Do not leave the oil unattended. Check the temperature of the oil using a cooking thermometer - it should reach 180C. You will need to work in batches, depending on the size of your pan or deep-fat fryer. Fry the arancini for about 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Carefully remove using a slotted spoon or tongs and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Serve at once with the spicy tomato sauce (or you can keep the cooked arancini warm in a low oven while you finish another batch).

About Ramona

Ramona Andrews is a highly experienced food writer and digital content producer. She worked for the BBC Food website for many years, during which time the site won a BAFTA nomination, World Food Media Award and Guild of Food Writers Award. After studying to be a chef, she went to work for the UKTV Food website (now Good Food Channel) and has also worked as a restaurant reviewer for Time Out and Square Meal. She now lives in Bristol and dedicates much of her time to working on food policy change campaigns, as well as keeping her hand in recipe testing and shooting for bigger food clients and publications in her kitchen studio. The Lazy Susan team are looking forward to giving the delicious recipes she’s creating for our blog a try.

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