This is another of those cross-cultural reinterpretations of a dish; in this case, a Lebanese pilaf with toasted almonds, crumbled vermicelli and sweet spices, mish-mashed into a traditionally made Italian risotto. It works, I think – the almonds add a bit of crunch to the creamy rice, the cinnamon and pasta emphasise the comforting qualities of a big plate of oozing starch.
I added the prawns for a bit of contrast and extra protein, but I wished I had used scallops because I think the combination of scallops and almonds is so suited. (It would have been a bit beige, though.)
Anyway, the scope here is broad, since you could add almost anything that you’d put into either a risotto or a pilaf, that is almost anything at all. Chorizo, or merguez sausage. Chicken, chickpeas, broad beans, artichoke hearts, you get the idea.
Almond and prawn risotto Serves 2
Because I put prawns in my risotto, I omitted the parmesan. You might want to add cheese for a non-fishy variation (stir it in towards the end).
50g flaked almonds
1-2 tbsp olive oil
25g vermicelli nest, crumbled into short strands
1/2 small onion
150g risotto rice (I used Arborio)
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp celery leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 packet prawns, about 140g, peeled
1 clove garlic
1 dried bird’s eye chilli, crumbled, or 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
Finely chop the garlic and crush it into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the flat of your knife. Smear this over the prawns with the chilli, mixing with your hands, and set aside while you make the risotto.
Toast the almonds in a large dry frying pan until golden brown and then tip out and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan. Halve the onion and stir the onion quarters in the oil for a few minutes to flavour it, then take out the onion and discard. Add the crumbled vermicelli to the pan and fry until it turns brown and crunchy. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat with oil – add the extra tbsp if necessary. Have the chicken stock at a simmer in a separate pan.
Add a ladleful of stock to the rice and stir constantly until the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, stirring, until the rice is tender and creamy. Stop just before it’s done to the consistency you want. (You may need to add more stock, or just boiling water, if you run out). This should take around 20 minutes, but I won’t be too prescriptive as everyone has their own way of making risotto: I like it soft, not al dente, with a gentle ooze but not runny.
Stir through the celery leaves, almonds and spices with the last ladle of stock and cook for a few minutes. Add the prawns in right at the end – if they’re cooked, you just need to warm them through. If your prawns are raw, cook until they turn pink all over.
Adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s ‘Arabesque’.