Tag Archives: rice dishes

December comforts

Crown Prince open

It may be cold out there and there’s certainly not much doing in the garden or down at the allotment, but it’s a lovely excuse to turn to good old proper comfort food to warm you from the inside out. I love old-fashioned hotpots and casseroles to warm the cockles of your heart, but rice dishes often fit the bill too. Last night, after a brief foray to the plot to finally cut down my frosted dahlia stems and harvest calabrese side shoots, parsley, rocket and the ubiquitous (and no less welcome!) leeks, I turned to an old favourite, baked leek and butternut squash risotto. To me, this is the epitome of comfort eating – oven-baked, creamy and with a delicious combination of fresh seasonal vegetables, white wine, stock and the unctuous addition of Parmesan cheese. Perfection.

Another rice dish that I’ve been meaning to jot down here is equally warming and just as acceptable on a cold winter’s day. I always make it after I’ve cooked a gammon joint, as it’s best made with the lovely chunky stock. I should perhaps apologise to purists of Italian food before I proceed any further, as this bears minimal resemblance to a true risotto, but bear with me – it’s still extremely good.

The original idea for my ham & vegetable risotto came from an ancient cookery book of my ex-husband’s. I suspect he may even have had it at university in the late 1970s/early 80s, and I think it was by Marguerite Patten – but as I no longer have it, I can’t be sure! In any event, I no longer use a recipe, just throw together what I have to hand, but good stock, good chunky ham (cut from a gammon joint, not the sliced, processed stuff) and plenty of vegetables are a must.

I usually cook my gammon joint in my slow cooker by soaking overnight (if necessary – some are saltier than others. I find Sainsbury’s joints need a lot of soaking, whereas with Waitrose joints you can get away without). You can make this recipe with good vegetable (or chicken) stock but you won’t have the richness of using the real thing. I’ll share my gammon recipe here too, though again it’s barely a recipe as such. It makes for a lovely moist ham and plenty of that delicious stock – with the added bonus that you can put it in the slow cooker in the morning and go out for the rest of the day knowing your main meal is done. I usually make the risotto with the leftover ham and stock over the next few days – using up leftover food is always extremely satisfying and especially so in this case. (See Waste Not, Want Not for more ideas for using up leftovers.)

Slow-cooked Gammon Joint

1 gammon joint (size depends how many you’re feeding!)
1 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Apple juice or cider, 500 ml
Generous tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
Black pepper

Soak the gammon joint in a large pan of cold water overnight if necessary (if you’re not sure, always best to soak!). Bring the gammon joint to the boil in a pan of fresh water, drain, pat dry with kitchen towel, then brown in a glug of oil a frying pan and transfer to the slow cooker. Add chopped onion, celery and apple to the frying pan and brown slightly, then stir in chopped fresh sage and black pepper (no salt as the ham may still be salty). When starting to soften and turn golden brown, add the apple juice or cider (you can even use white wine if that’s what you have!) and bring to the boil. Then pour over the gammon in the slow cooker, cover and cook on Low for at least 8 hours. Remove the gammon from the cooking juices 20 minutes before serving, and save the stock for the risotto. You can add the cooking water from any vegetables you may have cooked to accompany the gammon to the stock too.

Ham & Vegetable Risotto – serves 2-3

Ham risotto

Ham stock (I leave the cooked onion, apple and celery in as these add to the overall dish) – about 500 ml
Chopped ham (as little or as much as you have! – I’d use a handful for 2-3)
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
125g risotto rice (I use Arborio)
250g fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1/2 thin chopped tomatoes)
50g frozen peas
125g Cheddar cheese, grated
Fresh parsley, chopped
Black pepper

Begin by gently frying the onion and red pepper until softened and golden brown. Add the leek and cook for a few minutes, then stir in the risotto rice and the grated carrot. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and stir constantly until the liquid has evaporated off, then start adding the stock, stirring all the time, adding the next ladleful as the previous one gets absorbed. It’s impossible to say how much you’ll need, but you can always top up with water if you finish the stock before the rice is ready. I would expect the stirring process to take at least 20 minutes, but keep checking the rice until it reaches the right consistency for you – just tender, in my case. Add the frozen peas and shredded ham about halfway through. You should end up with a lovely creamy risotto mixture. At this stage, stir in the Cheddar cheese (I did say it wasn’t authentic, but the Cheddar goes beautifully with the ham and the earthiness of the carrots! You an use Parmesan if you prefer…). Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve in generous bowlfuls. This isn’t the prettiest dish, but the taste more than makes up for it 🙂

If, by any chance, you’ve still got stock left over – say if you’ve added lots of vegetable cooking water – another winter-warming way of using it up (assuming it’s not too salty of course), is to turn it into ham and lentil soup. This was inspired originally by one of my favourite soup cookbooks, from the Covent Garden Soup Company (where it appears as Mrs Kendall’s Lentil Soup), but I’ve added to it over the years, use a completely different method and just throw in what I have available! It’s very forgiving and oh so tasty, nonetheless. I don’t actually add ham pieces to the soup, but it does taste very hammy with all that stock, hence the title – you wouldn’t want to forget and serve it to vegetarians by mistake…

Ham & Lentil Soup – serves 6-8

1.5 litres ham stock
(or use whatever ham stock you have left and add vegetable cooking water/stock)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
125g red lentils
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
Few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Black pepper
Fresh parsley to serve

Heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic until starting to soften and turn golden-brown. Stir in the diced potato and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the red lentils, tomato purĂ©e, thyme leaves and bay leaf, then add the stock (you can leave in the vegetable chunks if you’re using the stock from the gammon joint). Bring to the boil and cook for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes or so, then remove the bay leaf and blend in a liquidizer in batches (or use a stick blender if you don’t mind a more chunky texture). Return to the pan to reheat and serve with finely chopped fresh parsley. If the consistency is too thick at this stage, you can always add milk (or water) to adjust. Enjoy!

Quizzical Leo II

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Variations on a (rice) theme

Snowdrops

Spring may have seemed just round the corner today, but it’s still that time of year when comfort food is the order of the day. Snow or icy rain stopped play in the allotment yet again at the weekend, and although the snowdrops are brazening it out, and the scent of the daphnes pervades the garden when the sun deigns to shine, there’s very little evidence of spring growth yet.

Still far too tempting to hunker down inside and turn to comfort food like risottos and stews…. For me, rice dishes are just what you fancy after a cold winter’s walk or an afternoon beavering away on the keyboard. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with various examples of the genre and thought I’d note down my favourites, if only so I too can find them again and remember the little tweaks I’ve made!

My first revelation was Tom Kerridge’s beef risotto, as featured on the current BBC Food & Drink programme – a very good watch if you haven’t seen it. I’d never thought of making a risotto with beef, but this sounded so good, I just had to try it. The original recipe calls for beef shin on the bone, but my local farm shop only had boneless pieces when I called in, so gave me a piece of small marrowbone to cook with it. As I paid, I joked that the dogs would be mortified not to have any bones for themselves – so she duly presented me with the rest of the bone – two huge pieces! One was so enormous that I decided to cook it up for stock (which I subsequently used in the risotto instead of Tom’s recommended chicken stock), but the dogs have really enjoyed gnawing on the rest.

Here’s the recipe, duly tweaked as above:

Beef Risotto – serves 2

Beef risotto

8oz beef shin (on the bone) or with a separate piece of marrowbone)

½ pt red wine

Seasoning

1 carrot

1 celery stick

2 small onions, chopped

1 star anise

1 bay leaf

Good pint home-made beef stock (see link above – or you can use chicken!)

Olive oil

1oz butter

1 garlic clove

6oz risotto rice

Fresh thyme leaves

Cheese to serve (I used Fontina, but Tom’s original recipe used blue cheese)

Marinade the beef overnight in the wine and seasoning. Remove from marinade, reserving the wine. Brown the beef in a splash of olive oil, then remove from pan, brown half the onion, chopped carrot and celery until softened, add the star anise and bay leaf. Season and add the small piece of marrowbone (if using), reserved red wine and 1 pt beef stock, bring back to the boil and cook in a low oven (150°C, Gas 3), covered, for 3.5 – 4 hours. Add more stock if necessary (depends on the heat of your oven!).

Remove meat from casserole and chop/flake – it will probably fall apart by this stage! Extract the marrow from the bone and leave to one side to add later. Strain the stock through a sieve and keep to one side.

 Heat another splash of oil and the butter in a pan, add the remaining chopped onion and garlic and cook gently until soft. Add risotto rice and stir for a couple of minutes until well coated with the buttery juices. Add beef stock a ladleful at a time and stir as you go until absorbed, then add more as with a normal risotto. Continue until the rice is just tender – I usually reckon between 30-40 minutes for this stage.

Stir in the flaked meat, chopped marrowbone, thyme and finally the cheese of your choice, preferably one which will melt beautifully.

 Serve and enjoy the delicious, unctuous taste of comfort food at its best…..

A few days after luxuriating in my warming beef risotto, I decided to try another variation on the rice theme, this time very loosely based on a rice salad on the January page of this year’s Sainsbury magazine. It was intended to be a take on Coronation chicken, but using leftover turkey. I had neither cooked turkey nor chicken, but I did have a fresh chicken breast AND a ripe mango in my fruit bowl, so I decided to adapt! I wasn’t in the mood for salad (far too cold!), so I cooked brown rice and served the whole dish warm – a sort of Coronation chicken/biryani fusion…. See what you think:

Chicken and Mango Rice (serves 2)

Chicken & mango rice

6oz brown basmati rice

½ tsp turmeric

1 onion

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 yellow pepper (optional)

1 tbsp olive or sunflower oil

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp each garam masala, coriander, cumin

Salt and pepper

1 tsp freshly grated ginger (I use straight from the freezer)

1 ripe mango

2 chicken breasts

1oz flaked almonds, toasted under a grill (or in a hot oven for 4-5 mins)

2 tbsp sultanas

Handful fresh coriander, chopped

 Cook the brown basmati with 1 tsp turmeric in boiling water as usual for 25-30 minutes, then leave to one side.

 Cook the chopped onion, garlic, chilli and pepper in the oil, then add the spices, ginger and seasoning and continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Add the chicken, cut into thin strips and cook until tender and cooked through. Add the toasted almonds and sultanas and stir in the cooked brown rice until heated through. Finally add the chopped mango (diced using the hedgehog method of cutting each half lengthwise from the flat stone, scoring the flesh in a criss-cross pattern without piercing the skin, then turning each piece inside-out and cutting away from the skin) and fresh coriander and stir gently to mix.

Serve with mango chutney and Naan bread.

My final variation on the theme isn’t actually a rice dish at all, but it feels very much like one and certainly has the same supremely comforting effect. It’s a speltotto, borrowed from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day cookbook. It’s based on two of my staple allotment veg, kale and leek, that I always have even in the depths of winter and the tricky days of March when there’s not much else available on the plot. I’ve adapted it ever so slightly, but otherwise it’s more or less the original recipe – and wonderful with it! Kale is very much a superfood at the moment, popular with celebrities and nutritionists alike as a source of nutrient-rich goodness. The first time I made this, I made the mistake of using wholegrain spelt, the only spelt I could find at the time in my excellent local wholefood shop, Wealden Wholefoods. Unfortunately the whole grains took hours to cook, and although the recipe was still delicious, it ended up being rather later than I’d planned to eat…. Pearled spelt is the way to go: I tracked it down in Waitrose in the end, but I should think it’s more widely available now.

Kale and Leek Speltotto (serves 4)

Kale and leek speltotto

1 litre home-made vegetable stock (or chicken if you’re not cooking for vegetarians!)

50g butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Few sprigs fresh thyme

2-3 leeks, well washed and chopped

150g kale (I use the beautiful dark green Nero di Toscana)

300g pearled spelt

125ml dry white wine

50g cheese (Hugh uses goat’s cheese, but I’ve used whatever I had at hand: Taleggio is superb, as is Fontina, and I can imagine blue cheese being good too…)

Salt and pepper

 Cook the onion, garlic and thyme leaves gently in the oil and butter for about 10 minutes until soft. Stir in the leeks, followed a few minutes later by the pearled spelt and stir until coated in butter. Add the wine and bubble until all the liquid has been absorbed. Now add the stock little by little as you would with a risotto, testing after 30 minutes or so to see when the spelt is tender. Meanwhile, strip the dark green kale leaves from the tough stems and shred finely, disposing of the stems. When you think the spelt is almost ready, stir in the kale leaves and cook for another few minutes until they wilt and are just cooked. Season to taste and stir in your chosen cheese. Mmmmm…