Aside from the chance to put on spangly thongs, big feathers and party until the early hours, isn’t the idea of Mardi gras to clear out the larder, use up what you have and start afresh? Well, isn’t it? And while sparkling fireworks and rhinestones light up the Brazilian night, here the dark and gloomy slow crackle of damp wood on fires and cold, wet weather inspire something altogether different. I have a need to create.
Spurred on by the success of one home made risotto (the delicious Nigella Lawson’s irresistible Lemon Risotto – albeit slightly amended to suit my needs) and the discovery of one large tub of fish stock (made only from salmon carcasses), I decided to combine my Lenten clear out with that of continuing a theme: risotto. And so begins the experiment.
Flickering lights from the stormy gusts light up a lonely pack of Arborio rice gathering dust in the cupboard. Some equally cheerless shallots, and the last decent couple of cloves on a bulb of garlic, sitting solemnly beside the Aga, were enough to turn famine to feast, ready to bring life to the listless and mundane.
Lou’s Salmon Risotto with wrapped Monkfish
2 banana shallots
250g Arborio risotto rice
750ml salmon stock (I couldn’t make up the full litre, but it is fresh!)
1 small glass white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
1-2 cloves garlic finely sliced
1 sprig of rosemary
Maldon sea salt
2 fillets of monkfish (or other firm white fish)
2 packs pancetta or Parma ham
1 small pack of baby spinach leaves.
As I said before, it is all in the preparation. Mince the shallots, and warm up the stock. Next, prepare the fish as follows:
Lay out the Parma ham from left to right so that the ends overlap and you have a wide ‘sheet’ for wrapping. Trim each spinach leaf of its stalk and place on top of the ham, making sure the leaves are layered evenly. Leave a centimetre at the top and bottom. The leaves need only be two or three deep. Once done, place each fish fillet at the bottom end and roll the ham around it into a sausage. I would not put salt on this as with the stock and the ham it is likely to be salty enough. Lightly brush with some olive oil and place in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes (or until done).
Meanwhile fry the shallots, with oil and butter, add the rice and coat well. Add the glass of wine and reduce until practically gone, then start adding the stock, one ladle at a time until all used up (In the final stages I added the rosemary and garlic so that the flavour of the rosemary has a chance to infuse and the garlic settles rather than being raw and pungent).
To serve: remove the rosemary stem. Place the risotto in a dish or on a plate, slice the cooked fish in a diagonal, and place on top of the rice, the idea being to show off the tricolour of the fish, spinach and ham on a slightly yellow rice. Clean, simple and elegant.
What I got (pure luck) was a contrast in colours of the white, meaty fish, the stripe of the green spinach followed by the rich red of the ham changing what would be a visually ordinary white-on-white (made grey by the cloudy weather) serving into something more appealing. Testing the fish morsel, it reminded me of the texture of a soft centred chocolate; firm to the bite with a softer centre. The pancetta, sometimes crunchy at the end gives way to a moist, meaty and tender monkfish; the spinach giving some cleanliness to the salty ham.
Creamy butter and rich fish stock (part of your Omega 3, I guess) make a smooth combination, coating the rice, contrasting with the ham and the fish: nutty rice and firm meat; soft monkfish and spinach; strong salmon, rosemary and bacon flavours combining to pull the taste buds back and forth, here and there.
Keep your rhinestones, your feathers and your twenty-four-hour-party-people carnivals, your music, dancing and fireworks. The hypnotic flicker of the fire and the smooth comfort of a risotto is enough to warm even the most miserable of cold nights (though I did look at prices on Last minute).