From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
25 g dried cep or porcini mushrooms
75 g unsalted butter
2 leeks, finely chopped
100 g piece rindless smoked bacon (finely diced)
225 g mixed mushrooms (sliced, such as shitake, chestnut, chantarelle and oyster)
2 l vegetable stock
2 onions (finely chopped)
1 heaped tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 fresh bay leaf
450 g arborio rice (risotto)
175 g freshly grated parmesan
175 g mascarpone cheese
4 tblsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
50 g plain flour
100 g toasted dried breadcrumbs
4 tblsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
dressed bitter salad leaves, to serve
Soak the dried cep or porcini mushrooms in a bowl with 300ml (1/2 pint) of hot water. Melt half of the butter in a large sauté pan, add the leeks and smoked bacon and cook over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until the leeks are softened and the bacon is sizzling. Add the fresh mushrooms and continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes until tender. Season to taste, then tip into a bowl and set aside until ready to use.
Pour the stock into a large pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Wipe out the pan that the mushroom mixture was cooked in and return to the heat. Add the remaining butter, then tip in the onions, thyme and bay leaf and cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured, stirring.
Add the rice to the onion mixture and continue to cook for another minute, stirring to ensure that all the grains are well coated. Drain the cep mushrooms, reserving the liquid, then add to the pan and allow to bubble down, stirring until it has completely absorbed. Meanwhile, chop the cep mushrooms and add them too.
Begin to add the simmering stock a ladle at a time, stirring frequently. Allow each stock addition to be almost completely absorbed before adding the next. After approximately 20 minutes, add the reserved mushroom mixture with half of the Parmesan, the mascarpone and parsley, and stir energetically to combine. Season to taste and leave to cool completely.
Season the flour and place on a flat plate. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and season to taste. Mix together the remaining Parmesan with the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Using a small ice cream scoop, take balls of the cold risotto and lightly dust in the seasoned flour. Dip in the beaten egg and then quickly roll in the Parmesan breadcrumbs until well coated. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment paper and chill for at least 1 hour to firm up or overnight is fine.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the risotto balls for 6-8 minutes until crisp and golden brown, moving regularly in the pan to ensure they cook evenly. Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while you cook the remainder. Arrange three risotto balls on each plate with some salad to serve.