Nigel Slater’s recipes for spring herb risotto and mint and lemon sorbet

Lifestyle

Two light and delicious recipes guaranteed to spread a little calm this spring

Little things come to cheer us. There is new growth on the thyme bushes on the kitchen steps, the chives are poking through the soil and I found wild garlic leaves at the greengrocer’s the other day. New life in the garden and new season’s ingredients in the shops suddenly seem more welcome than ever.

My collection of rice in the cupboard (brown basmati, sticky sushi, round white baldo, carnaroli and arborio) has been getting its moment in the spotlight in the past few weeks. Sticky rice for breakfast (with pickled radish and crumbled nori). Brown rice for lunch (vegetable stock with basmati and shredded spring carrots) and, twice now, white basmati rice for dinner (a vegetable coulibiac and a rosewater-scented biryani.) Last night it was the turn of the round and starchy arborio in a spring herb risotto.

That last one was particularly uplifting. Maybe it was the simplicity of the rice, butter, stock, cheese and herbs, or perhaps it was the 20 minutes of peaceful stirring with a favourite wooden spoon that did the trick. Whatever, the young leaves lifted our spirits and left us with the promise that one day, all will be well again.

Spring herb risotto and parmesan crisps
There is something calm-inducing about a risotto. The gentle stirring, the warm, soft grains in your mouth and the idea that you have made dinner so effortlessly from so few ingredients. The crisps are obviously optional. I like the deep umami contrast to the pleasingly bland, softness of the rice.
Serves 2

vegetable stock 1 ltr
basil 25g
parsley 25g
tarragon 15g
onions 2, medium
butter 50g
risotto rice 250g
chives 10g
wild garlic leaves 50g
parmesan 50g, grated

For the parmesan crisps:
parmesan 50g, grated
nigella seeds 2 tsp

To finish:
salad leaves a handful of young leaves, such as red-veined sorrel, chives, chervil leaves or small beetroot leaves

Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan. Strip the basil, parsley and tarragon leaves from their stems and put the stems into the stock. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and cover with a lid to infuse.

Finely chop the onions. Put half the butter into a shallow-sided pan over a moderate heat, let it melt, then stir in the chopped onions. Leave them to cook, with a regular stir, for a good 10 minutes or until they are soft and translucent. Add the rice, then stir in the infused herb stock, discarding the herb stems as you go. Add no more than a ladle at a time, stirring almost continuously, until the rice is tender and the consistency is thick and creamy.

In between stirring the risotto, make the parmesan crisps. Finely grate the parmesan, then mix it with the nigella seeds. Warm a nonstick frying pan over a low to moderate heat, place the grated cheese and nigella seeds in the pan in four rounds, each about the size of a digestive biscuit. Let the cheese melt, turn pale gold in colour and start to bubble. Remove the pan from the heat, let each disc of melted cheese cool slightly then remove from the pan with a palette knife or kitchen slice. This is most easily done by sliding the blade under the melted cheese and lifting it carefully from the pan. If it doesn’t come off easily, then leave it a minute or so longer until it is easy to handle. Put the crisps on a cooling rack.

Chop the chives and the reserved herb leaves and stir into the rice together with the leaves of wild garlic, remaining butter and the grated parmesan. Check and correct the seasoning, then spoon generously on to plates or shallow dishes. Scatter over the small salad leaves and serve with the parmesan crisps.

Mint and lemon sorbet

These little desserts freeze very well in a lidded, plastic box, and can be brought out at a minute’s notice.
Makes 8

For the syrup:
white caster sugar 200g
water 400ml
mint stalks 8

lemons 8, large
mint leaves 5g

Put the sugar into a small saucepan, add the water and the mint stalks and bring to the boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to infuse and cool.

Place the lemons on a chopping board. Remove a quarter of each lemon by taking a slice from tip to stalk from each fruit. Using a lemon reamer or squeezer, remove the juice from each lemon. You need about 400ml of juice. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the skin and pulp from each lemon shell, then placed them on a tray and put them in the freezer.

Pour the lemon juice into a blender jug, add the mint leaves and process for a couple of minutes until the leaves are very finely chopped.

When the sugar syrup is thoroughly chilled, strain through a sieve to remove the mint stalks and stir in the juice. Pour into an ice-cream machine and churn until almost frozen. If you are making it by hand, pour the mixture into a freezer box and place in the freezer for 4 hours. Stir every hour to bring the frozen crystals around the edge to the middle. A regular stir will ensure an even texture.

Place the frozen lemon shells on a large serving dish. Tuck scoops of the frozen sorbet into the hollow of each lemon and serve immediately.