Dumplings and risotto are two other basics in a cook’s repertoire. They can act as an accompaniment to a whole range of dishes, and risotto also works as a starter or a main course meal on its own.
To me, dumplings mean childhood. My mum used to cook them with boiling fowl and root vegetables on cold winter days. They are also great in stews, soups or casseroles, where the balls of dough sit partly submerged in the cooking juices and expand as they are half-boiled, half-steamed for about ten minutes. The cooked dumplings are airy on the inside and moist on the outside.
Dumplings can also be sweet. When I last visited Scotland, I had a pudding called ‘clootie dumpling’, a sourdough dumpling made with dried fruit and spices and cooked in water. It’s often fried and eaten with ham, eggs and tattie scones in the morning. (Ireland’s ‘dumpling’ is Scotland’s less appetising-sounding ‘dough-ball’.)
The focus here, however, is on savoury dumplings – those which are a part of traditional Irish cuisine. Originally intended to make up a filling meal in winter and sometimes to stretch a dish further, they are now a rare treat.
Dumpling recipe (serves 4)
2 shallots, finally diced
100g unsalted butter
10ml olive oil
800g old bread
250g white flour
1/2 ltr of milk
30g chives, tarragon, and parsley
10g sea salt
5g fresh milled white pepper
1. Break the bread into small pieces. Add the milk and soften for about 15 minutes.
2. Saute the shallots in butter and the olive oil until lightly brown. Remove and place into a bowl and cool.
3. Add the softened bread with the shallots. Chop the herbs and add them to the mix. Follow by adding the flour, then the eggs and season. Mix into a dough.
4. Rest for 30 minutes.
5. Roll out the dough into long strips, cut into 10g pieces and roll into small balls.
6. Poach the dumplings in chicken stock for 15 minutes.
One of the all-time Italian classics is now a popular choice worldwide, and is easier to cook than many people think. There are several theories as to how to make the perfect risotto, but there are a couple of universal points: you must have the right type of rice and a decent, hot stock.
How you add the stock is a matter for debate. Traditionally, it is ladled over the rice and lots of stirring takes place until the stock is absorbed.
Modern time-saving methods involve adding all the stock at once and popping the whole thing in the oven, or just cooking it gently over the stove. I still like to do mine the old-fashioned way.
With the combination of different grains, stocks, flavourings and methods of cookery, you can ring the changes to make a huge variety of dishes. I always keep risotto rice in the cupboard and it is a firm family favourite.
The three most popular grains of risotto rice are arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. Arborio is the most widely-used grain. It is large and rounded, and has a wonderful creamy texture. I have used this in today’s recipe, as it is widely available.
Carnaroli is long, elegant grain that tends to hold its shape well even when completely cooked. It’s a good choice if you find that your risotto always turns a little mushy. Although vialone nano can be difficult to get hold of, it has the creamiest, smoothest texture of all risotto rices.
Griolle risotto (serves 4)
1 shallot, finally diced
25g olive oil
10g unsalted butter
200g arborio rice
1/2 ltr vegetable stock
1 ml of dry martini
5g hard unsalted butter
50g parmigiano Reggiano
100g of fresh griolles (mushrooms)
1. Saute the shallots in 15g of olive oil and the butter, without colouring. Add the Martini.
2. Wash the rice and add to the shallots. Cook it slowly for about five minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add a quarter of the stock and cook until the rice has absorbed it.
4. Wash and saute 50g of griolles for a minute, then add to the rice.
5. Add the remainder of the stock in two parts. Cook until creamy and al dente.
6. Grate the cheese and add 40g of parmigiano and the remaining butter to the rice. Correct the seasoning.
7. Sprinkle the remainder of the parmigiano onto parchment paper in 6cm circles. Cook in a oven at 110ºC for a few minutes to soften and bind together to make a tuille.
8. Saute the rest of the mushrooms, season and use for garnish along with the tuille.
Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.www.thorntonsrestaurant.com