Saturday, May 5, 2012

Japanese knotweed risotto



The only thing I have against knotweed is its cooked colour - camouflage khaki. But the flavour is excellent compensation.

If your knotweed stems are young, and up to two feet, they are generally tender enough  to eat. Look for plump stems. Skinny stems are disappointingly fibrous. Ignore them. My favourite size is short and fat, similar to asparagus. With older stems I peel off the thin outer membrane and also discard the joints in the stems. The leaves at the tips are still tender enough to use, too.


To learn risotto read Marcella Hazan on the subject. She taught me, trough her books. But this is what I did (and remember: When in doubt, stir). And if you are vegetarian, just skip the pancetta.

3 rashers (strips, pieces) pancetta or bacon
1 Tbsp butter
3 scallions, white and green parts finely sliced (and if you have field garlic, use that)
3 cups cut up Japanese knotweed, in quarter inch pieces
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup fruity, unwooded white wine
2-3 cups hot stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 squeeze of lemon, no more
Black pepper
Knob of butter
1/3 cup of cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Allow the pancetta or bacon to sweat until some fat runs. Add the butter, and when it foams add the scallions or field garlic to the pan. Stir those until coated with butter and fat and cook gently without colouring for about 4 minutes till softer and translucent. Add the rice. Stir to coat until glistening and keep stirring to toast it.

After the rice has turned chalky, add the wine, which will sizzle and make a lot of steam, and keep stirring until absorbed. You may want to turn the heat up a bit. Depends. Add the knotweed and stir. Once the heat envelopes it it will turn that strange khaki colour. Persevere. The knotweed collapses into creamy strands in the moist heat. Now add gulps of hot stock, and stir between each addition. Don't just make soup and wait for it to be absorbed - the stirring is what produces the creamy texture. If your stock is cold you will land up with appetizing glue. I know. You may need more stock...

After about twelve to fifteen minutes of this I start to nibble rice grains to see how done they are. You do not want mush. They must be firm, but not crunchy and chalky in the middle. Add the squeeze of lemon, stir, add the cream, stir, taste and season with pepper. In that order.

Add the cheese moments before you eat it and stir again.  Taste again. Salt may not be necessary, because of the cheese. Turn into a warmed bowl, eat at once.

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