Risotto nero

Serves 4 as a starter

This is my favourite risotto dish it looks amazing on the plate, with its jet-black, silky colour. Like all risottos, the crucial thing to get right is to start with a good-flavour stock. If you’re making the grilled squid dish, you can save the wings and tentacles for the risotto, as you don’t really need that much actual squid to serve it.

Ingredients

For the stock
A good knob of butter
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
½tsp fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
A sprig of thyme
1kg fish bones, washed and chopped
20g squid ink
Half a glass of white wine

For the risotto

1tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
200g carnaroli rice
25g (3 sachets) squid ink, available to order from all good fishmongers
Risotto stock, a good knob of butter
100g cleaned squid, cut into small rough 1cm dice

Method

To make the stock, melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the vegetables and spices. Cover and cook gently for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add the fish bones, the squid ink and the white wine and cover with water. Bring it to the boil, skim off any scum
that forms and simmer for about 40-50 minutes.

Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve. It should have a good, strong flavour-if it doesn’t, reduce it a little. Keep it hot until you make the risotto, or if you’re making the stock in advance, reheat it when you’re ready to use it.

To make the risotto, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the rice and
stir on a low heat for a couple of minutes, without allowing it to colour. Add the squid ink,
stir well, then slowly add the stock, a ladle or two at a time, ensuring that all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more, stirring constantly.

When the rice is cooked, add the butter and a little more stock if the risotto seems a bit dry-it should be wet, but not runny. Meanwhile, fry the squid in the butter and scatter it over the risotto to serve.

Grilled squid with chickpeas and bacon

Serves 4

British peas and broad beans are a way off yet, so it’s a good time to create spring-like dishes with store-cupboard standbys.

Ingredients

4 medium-sized squid, each about 200g
Vegetable oil, for brushing
8 thin slices of smoked streaky bacon (or pancetta)
A handful of rocket leaves, washed

For the chickpea relish

About 125ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to dress
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 small mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
Finely grated zest of half a lime
2tsp sweet chilli sauce
160g (drained weight) good-quality canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
1tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper

Method

To make the chickpea relish, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently cook the shallots, chilli, pepper and lime zest for a few minutes until soft, but don’t allow them to colour. Add the chickpeas, stir well and remove from the heat. Stir in the chilli sauce and fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper and set aside. If the salsa seems a bit dry, dress it with a little more oil.

Preheat a barbecue, griddle or cast-iron frying pan. Make a cut down the centre of each squid and open it out flat. With a sharp knife, score the body in criss-cross fashion with lines about 2cm apart. Season the squid bodies and tentacles with salt and pepper and brush with vegetable oil.

Meanwhile, grill, griddle or fry the bacon until it’s crisp. Then, cook the squid in the same pan for two minutes on each side-if it curls up during cooking, just put another frying pan on top.
Serve the squid beside a pile of the rocket, with a spoonful of the warm salsa and the pancetta or bacon on top.

Mark Hix’s ‘Seasonal Food’ is available from Quadrille at £25

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