Life's too short to stand and stir? Reach for Ferron rice.
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for stirring in (or butter) 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped 2 cups Ferron risotto rice, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli 150ml (5 fl oz) dry wine 4 cups light vegetable stock, brought to boiling point just before adding to the rice Salt and freshly ground black pepper Freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Heat oil in a wide but shallow saucepan. Add onion and garlic. Cook gently until softened but not coloured. Add rice and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until rice is hot. Add wine and evaporate. Add boiling stock all at once, season, stir, and bring back to the boil. Stir again, cover with a lid and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cook gently for 14-16 minutes.
2 Remove pan from heat. Whip in a little butter or extra virgin olive oil and parmesan, cover with lid for 1 minute, then serve immediately.
The Ferron family, who have operated the Ferron rice mill near Verona in Italy since 1921, see it otherwise. Theirs is thought to be the oldest working mill in Italy, and it is still water-driven as it has been since its establishment in the 17th century.
Gabriel Ferron received a knighthood from the Italian government for his work in preserving ancient rice grains and has worked with local rice growers setting up a consortium to preserve old grains of rice. In 1996 Ferron Vialone Nano rice was declared an Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP), a seal of approval guaranteeing consumers the quality of the rice, its cultivation method and the area in which it is grown.
Ferron rices are sturdier in structure, with more husk left on. Unlike most commercially grown rices, they are not highly polished. They contain more nutrients and have more taste. Controversially, Ferron adds the stock all at once, covers the pan, then leaves it for around 15 minutes, by which time the rice has absorbed the liquid and is cooked to perfection. Traditionalists raise an eyebrow at his risotto method, and I must admit it took me ages, simply ages, before I gave it a go. Why? Because I knew the other method so well. I had learnt it in Emilia Romagna at my Italian sister-in-law’s side. I found it soothing to stand at the stove stirring and sniffing in the steamy aromas as I made risotto, and I liked the result. But the Ferron method is easy, frees you up from the pot, gives you a bulkier risotto with more nutrients intact, and produces a gorgeous risotto every time. Up to you if that is worth three times the price of arborio. Does the Ferron method wok so well with modern strands of rice? No, not so well.
Whichever method you use, vigorously beat the risotto with a wooden spoon at the end of cooking for about 30 seconds. The agitation brings out the final starch, making it creamier. Beat in a generous lump of butter and a handful of grated parmesan if liked. Cover the pan and leave to infuse briefly before serving.