Black rice is even cooler than it looks. I confess I bought a bag of it with an idea for this very risotto in mind, and that I singled it out for its looks alone. I pictured it shiny, black and creamy with bright grilled greens on top. It was only in trying to learn more about it to share with you that I discovered that it’s apparently crazy good for you too.
That black colour is an indication of the anthocyanin antioxidants that are found in it. It’s the same antioxidant in other blue/purple-black food, like blueberries, but black rice contains much more of it, without all of those sugars and with more fiber.
And that colour?
It bleeeeeeeds out. It was almost as if I’d added red wine, not white, when the liquid hit the pot. The hue kept spilling out and while the black rice changed to dark purple, it didn’t loose much more of its colour while it cooked. I ended up with that shocking, stained risotto I was after, and I was mesmerized while stirring.
But enough about beauty and more about flavour. Ramps are one of those fleeting foods that pop up in markets and certain stores in Toronto for a short time in early spring. If you’ve never had them, they’re wild leeks that and taste a little like peeled young garlic at the base, but whose leaves are flat, tender and full of flavour too. Grilled ramp leaves are spectacular and if you haven’t tried them that way before, you are in for such a treat.
But, if you can’t source ramps for this recipe, leeks, scallions or shallots can replace the ramp bulbs for building flavour in the beginning of this risotto recipe, and grill your favourite spring vegetable to have with this risotto: fiddleheads, asparagus or young leeks would be nice.
Lastly, don’t be intimidated by risotto if you’ve never made it at home. Yes, there is some stirring involved and a few things you have to watch out for, but the good news is, most of the signs you’re looking for are obvious…
- You want to sweat the aromatics you’re using (onion, leeks, ramps etc.) as opposed to brown them, so they get cooked for a short time in fat over a moderate heat.
- The rice is added next, to toast briefly (3-5 minutes) until they look a little less opaque and until they make a little clacking sound, like a popping but not quite–that’s how you can tell with the black rice since you can’t look for the visual cue.
- Wine goes in for flavour next and it totally cooked off, before you start adding broth that you have simmering beside you, a couple of ladles-full at a time. Before you add the next bit of broth, the rice should have soaked up the previous splash. You stop when the rice is cooked but still has a little bite in the middle–in other words, you taste it when you think it’s close to being done.
- Allll of that stirring…sigh. But not without reason. You’ve been stirring all along to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pan, for each kernel to cook evenly, and also to coax out the starch that makes risotto creamy. Arborio is high in starch and that’s why it’s most commonly used for risotto, and it cooks more quickly than this whole grain black rice does, but with patience, you can get a beautifully creamy risotto with it too. Like white rice risotto, it should be creamy and thick enough for your spoon to leave a trail through it, but loose enough for the rice to spill and slide into that trail in a second or two.
- And at the end, you adjust your seasoning (you might not need to add salt if your broth is well seasoned, and since you’re adding parmesan which is salty too), stir in a little butter to make things shiny and a little more slippery, before turning off your heat. In a moment, add your grated cheese and stir it through. Serve immediately–as soon as it has cooled down enough not to burn your mouth, risotto is at its best. It will be fluid without being at all watery, but once it has cooled, it will be thick and a little gloopy. Still delicious, but not the point.
But, those gloopy leftovers are perfect for next-day uses, which I’ll share with you later this week. So don’t be scared of having leftovers, if you can manage to keep yourself from eating plate after plate of risotto.
Black Rice and Ramp Risotto
Note: These instructions and measurements are for black rice, which is whole grain. White rice or the traditional aborio will cook faster and may not require as much liquid to cook, so adjust both time and broth as needed. The specific broth you use will determine how much salt, if any, you need to add to your risotto toward the end. Keep in mind you’ll be finishing your risotto with parmesan, which is a little salty too. I find a wooden spoon ideal for making risotto, since they tend to be flatter which moves the risotto around but keeps it in contact with the heat instead of picking it up, and they are quieter! You’re stirring and scraping the bottom the entire time that you’re cooking, so this actually makes it much more pleasant.
The tea towel you use to dry the rice on will be stained, even after washing, so be sure to use one you don’t mind tainting.
If you can’t find ramps, use 1 large shallot, half an onion or the white part of a white leek in place of the ramp bulbs and stems, and grill asparagus or your favourite spring green for serving on top.
Extra virgin olive oil
8 ramp stalks, trimmed and sliced thinly crosswise (1/4 c), leaves left whole and separated
4 c vegetable broth
1/4 c unsalted butter, divided
2 c black rice, rinsed well, then laid out flat to dry on a tea towel-lined baking sheet for 20 mins.
1 c dry white wine
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium heat. Brush with olive oil when very hot. Lay the ramp leaves perpendicular to the grill marks, or lay flat in skillet. Leave them for about 30 seconds or until the grill marks start to show through. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over them, then turn and cook for a few more seconds until they just start to crisp up. Do not let them brown completely. Turn off heat and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
Bring broth to a gentle simmer, in a pot over medium heat. Reduce heat and keep at a low simmer, covered.
In a large and wide, heavy-bottomed pot, melt 2 tbs of butter over medium heat. Add the ramp bulbs and stems and cook gently, stirring, until softened but do not let them brown. Lift the tea towel carefully and allow all of the rice to fall onto the baking sheet (it will be easier to add the rice to the pot from the sheet.) Transfer the rice to the pot and stir well to coat each kernel in the melted butter. Cook, stirring frequently, to toast the rice, which will take about 3-5 minutes.
Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the it has evaporated.
Add 2-3 ladles of simmering broth to the rice, about 1 cup, and stir well. The rice should be gently simmering in the broth. If the simmer is strong, lower the heat slightly (you don’t want the broth to boil off before it cooks the rice.) Stir the rice gently, making sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom, especially as the broth reduces. Once almost all of the broth has been absorbed, add another cup of broth and repeat.
After the fourth addition of broth, the rice should be almost cooked. Taste to check for doneness. By the end, you want the grains to be cooked but still have some bite in the centre. Taste and add as much salt as needed. You may need to add up to 1 tsp if you’re using low-sodium broth.
When the last of the broth you’re adding had been absorbed, but the risotto is still loose, you’re ready to finish the risotto. Stir through the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Turn off heat and get your serving platter or plates ready. Add the grated Parmesan to the risotto and stir through. Plate risotto and top with grilled ramp leaves. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings.