Provided both are cooked well, where does the line lie between restaurant food and home food? I am talking about taste, not presentation, as obviously restaurants have the edge in presentation. If you were going to consider it as an equation, where D=Dinner, C=Cooking and P=Presentation, a meal at home is pretty much D = C, whereas in a restaurant, D = C + P. I have no problems with this - when I am cooking at home, I rarely have the time or inclination to make food look like it is athletically springing out of the plate (but a restaurant that didn't bother would irritate me).
So, looking purely at taste, where does the gap lie between home food and restaurant food? The scientific conclusion I have come to on the basis of this risotto is the number of ingredients and processes. The resulting dish was really good in a "oh my god, this tastes like something you would eat at Machiavelli" kind of way (or maybe at Fifteen if you are in Melbourne?). But you do need to devote a bit of love to it. There are spices to toast, then pound in a mortar and pestle, then make the risotto, stirring, stirring, stirring, then peas to cook and pound, before it all gets mixed together. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely, and it will definitely get served again at a winter dinner party. If I was serving it to the kids again, I would probably leave out the fennel seeds - they give a lovely background flavour but the kids found it a bit much. For a weeknight, however, I would still go to the Bill Granger oven-baked risotto, which does not have the finesse of this one, but is a lot less labour intensive.
adapted from Italian Local by Tobie Puttock
1 litre chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 tbl olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 sticks celery finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 small dried red chilli
large pinch of white pepper
200g arborio rice
100ml white wine
1 cup freshly podded peas (I cheated and used frozen peas)
1/4 cup parmesan
2 stalks mint
2 stalks continental parsley
8 slices crisped prosciutto (to serve if desired)
1/2 cup goats curd (to serve if desired)
Bring the stock to the boil in a small saucepan, then drop the heat and keep it at a low simmer. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add onion, celery and garlic, and saute until soft but not browned (about 10 mins). Pound the fennel seeds, chilli and pepper to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle, then add to the saucepan, and continue to saute for another 5 mins.
Add the rice and saute for 10 mins more, or until the grains are translucent. Once they are translucent, increase the heat to medium and add a glass of wine. Stir the rice until all the wine has been absorbed, then add the stock, one ladle at a time. Stir constantly and await for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next ladle. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to the boil, and blanch the peas for 2 mins, then drain.
When all the stock has been added and the risotto is looking creamy, add the butter, remove from the heat and cover with a lid. Let the rice sit for 5 mins.
Pound the peas with a mortar and pestle until smooth. Stir the parmesan into the rice and season to taste. Stir in the crushed peas, mint and parsley, and spoon onto plates. Top with prosciutto or goats cheese if using.