Sweetcorn, Grana Padano & Popcorn Risotto with Basil & Lime
Funny where inspiration can come from... In my teens and early restaurant days, I went to an after-hours nightclub called the Nutcracker Suite, where, as an other-worldly morning tea, you got gin in china cups alongside cheese and creamed corn toasties. Absolute heaven on a paper plate at 4am and beyond.
In more elegant news, and after 3 decades of evolution, the corn and Grana Padano dance together to make a cream that binds the risotto and contrasts exquisitely with the crunchy corn kernels. As I write this, I think that I could probably do a version without the rice; watch this space. The cheesy popcorn on top is a bit of cheeky fun, you could eat either on its own, but once you have tasted the Grana Padano popcorn, you will never be able to eat it any other way.
The corn can be cooked, and the puree made at least a day before using, keep it in a covered container in the fridge. I like this with a tomato and rocket salad on the side, as much for the green and red alongside the yellow as for the taste! Keep the rind from your Grana Padano to use in the stock. I always have some in the freezer.
Serves 2 Preparation time: 30 minutes; Cooking time: 30 minutes; Difficulty: Easy
1. Pour the 750ml of water into a medium sized pan. Add the corn, the Grana Padano rind and half a teaspoon of salt. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the corn. Scrape it off. Put the husks back into the stock and simmer until you need it. Don't worry if it reduces right down, this gives you more concentrated flavour for later.
2. While the corn cooks, get the risotto started. Get a large shallow pan. Add the diced onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Stir everything together. Cover the pan and sweat over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, until the onion softens. Stir in the rice and sauté without browning for 1-2 minutes. Add 350ml of hot corn and Grana Padano stock. Bring the risotto to the boil. Turn the heat right down. Simmer gently and stir frequently for 14 minutes. Add 2/3 of the corn kernels then continue to simmer for 4 minutes more or until the rice is cooked as much as you like it to be, taste it to check. Add more hot corn stock if the rice starts to dry out. Once the rice is ready to your satisfaction, take the pan off the heat. Cover the pan and leave to sit for 2 minutes just to let the rice settle and finish cooking.
3. While the risotto simmers, make the corn puree. Add the remaining 1/3 of the corn kernels, 5 tbsp of olive oil, ginger, and the Grana Padano. Blend to a smooth puree. Add some of the corn stock, tablespoon by tablespoon if you need to, as sometimes more liquid is needed so that the blades can turn and get a grip on everything enough to reduce it to a puree.
4. Add the vegetable oil and popcorn to the pan. Put a lid (if you have a glass one this will help) on and turn the heat to medium. Stand over the pan and shake it every now and then until the corn has popped. Take the pan off the heat. Add the grated Grana Padano and a little salt. Stir it through. Transfer the popcorn to a plate as quickly as possible as the cheese will stick to the bottom of the pan (if it does, scrape this off, this is delicious, like broken cheesy crisps). Grate a little more Grana Padano over the top. The Popcorn will be more than you need because it burns easily if you do it in smaller quantities, finish it off with a movie after dinner.
5. Once the risotto is ready, stir in the corn puree. Add more of the stock if you like the texture to be more saucy, remember, the risotto becomes more solid as it cools. Season to taste with salt, cayenne pepper or smoked paprika for a smoky flavour and lime to balance the sweetness. Spoon onto warm plates, sprinkle with the popcorn and a squeeze of lime, grate over some Grana Padano, trickle with olive oil and finish with the basil leaves.
Medium sized pan with lid