Gooey Courgette & Bacon Risotto

This is a lovely little risotto – it looks pretty, tastes great, and it’s simple too. If you love bacon (and if not, why not?) you might be tempted to pile more in, but honestly, I think it’s better to stick to the amount I’ve given, because otherwise it overwhelms the more delicate flavour of the courgette. Because of the slow simmering process, you’ll still get a lovely smoky bacon flavour throughout the dish. However, if you’re a veggie, I think this dish would still be pretty delicious without any bacon at all.

Olive oil
1 onion
1 stick of celery
150g bacon lardons
A couple of cloves of garlic
150g risotto rice
A good splash of vermouth or white wine
A couple of pints of chicken stock
Salt and black pepper
Parmesan and cheddar cheese, to grate

Serves two, with a bit left over for the next day.

First of all, a note on the ingredients. Obviously, I’d always encourage you to buy all the ingredients you need, even if you aren’t sure you’ll like them. But if you can’t afford them, don’t let that put you off making the recipe altogether – you can usually work out a cheaper substitute. In this recipe, you can use regular long-grain rice instead of the fancy risotto stuff, and you can also leave out the alcohol if you like (although if you invest in a bottle of supermarket own-brand vermouth, it will last quite a few recipes – you need much less and you can substitute it in nearly all recipes that call for white wine).

The first step in making a risotto is making a sofrito – this means chopping your onion, celery and garlic very finely and frying it nice and slowly in plenty of melted butter and olive oil, so that it softens but doesn’t take on any colour. Stir it carefully during this time – it should take about 10-15 minutes.

Next, add your bacon lardons – again, you can use ordinary bacon, but since this is such a lovely gooey dish, I think it’s nice to have proper chunks of bacon to mix up the textures a bit. At this point, you need to fill the kettle up and put it on to boil.

Once the meat has started to take on a little bit of colour, add your rice and a generous splash of vermouth (or a small glass of white wine). There should be a bit of a sizzle and then a lovely boozy smell rising from the pan – leave it to fry for a minute so that all the bitterness in the alcohol burns off and you’re just left with a nice subtle flavour.
Next, make up your stock with boiling water – about two pints, with two stock cubes (make sure you stir it well to dissolve the cubes). Add it to the rice a bit at a time, making sure not to add any more liquid until the last lot has been absorbed. Keep stirring so that none of the rice gets stuck to the bottom.

When the rice is nearly done (i.e. when it’s softened but still has a bit of a bite to it), take the pan off the heat and grate in your courgette – grating it rather than chopping means it softens really quickly and you end up with a lovely juiciness in the final dish. Carry on adding stock until the rice is softened to your liking – you shouldn’t need more than two pints, but if you do run out, you can just do the last bit with boiling water.

Once it’s ready, take the pan off the heat again and grate in a good handful each of parmesan and cheddar cheese, add a couple of knobs of butter, and then stir it all through and put the lid back on. Leave it to sit for a moment while you lay the table – this is a Jamie Oliver tip and it means your risotto will be really gooey and creamy. Serve up a lovely warm, fragrant bowlful and grate a bit more cheddar on top – blissful.