Tag Archives: risotto

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 purée, 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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The darkest root

Carrot harvest

I usually grow at least one whole bed of root vegetables at the allotment. Carrots, parsnips and beetroot are my staples, but I have toyed with swedes, celeriac and turnips, although with limited success, so always return to the first three. Carrots haven’t always been good on the heavy local clay, but a fellow plotholder who always has superb rows of huge carrots suggested incorporating some sand in the soil and that appears to have made all the difference! This year’s carrot crop is a great improvement and I’m actually in a position to store some for the winter. Even the slugs have steered clear this season: whether they’re averse to the gritty sand on their slimy skins or have been attracted elsewhere, I’m not sure – but I’m certainly not complaining! Even the dreaded carrot root fly haven’t made an appearance this year. Admittedly, some of the carrots were the resistant Flyaway variety, but by no means all. Homegrown carrots have such a superb taste, it’s so satisfying when they do well.

Parsnips usually do extremely well for me, but this year I’ve had a complete crop failure. They take so long to germinate, that by the time you realise they haven’t appeared, it’s often too late to do anything about it. I used fresh seed, so have no idea what went wrong this time. It happens….

Beetroot on the other hand, always do well – and this year was no exception. I love beetroot simply roasted individually, wrapped in foil, in a hot oven at 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6, then served warm or cold with a salad. I often cook a batch, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, and store in the fridge for a good week or so. Recently, I was inspired to find a recipe for beetroot risotto, as much for its dark and sultry looks as anything else. After much researching, I couldn’t find exactly what I had in mind, so resorted to adapting a Diana Henry recipe that looked promising. The result was divine – a deep red plateful topped with creamy white cheese. So good.

Beetroot Risotto – serves 1

Beetroot risotto

25ml butter
1 small red onion, chopped
1 leek, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
50g Arborio rice
100g fresh beetroot, grated
450 ml fresh vegetable stock (or use chicken if you prefer), hot
75 ml Martini Rosso (or use red wine)
few sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan), grated
50g Lancashire cheese (or Wensleydale, feta or goat’s cheese!)
Dill to garnish

Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the chopped red onion, leek and garlic gently until tender, but not brown – about 10 minutes. Add the rice and thyme leaves, then stir to coat thoroughly. Add the grated beetroot (use disposable gloves to grate, or peel and use a food processor!) and cook for another few minutes. Pour in the Martini Rosso or red wine and allow it to bubble up and reduce slightly. Then start adding the hot stock, one ladle at a time, waiting for it to be absorbed each time before adding the next. Stir constantly and start testing the rice after 20 minutes or so to see if it is tender, but with a slight bite. Add the grated Pecorino, chopped dill and season to taste. Serve in bowls garnished with crumbled or grated Lancashire cheese (or the cheese of your choice – a chalky white cheese is the best foil for the dark earthiness of the beetroot) and more dill, if you have it. Enjoy!

This serves just one, but you can multiply according to how many you’re serving. You could also add cubes of roasted beetroot to garnish for maximum effect.

Another favourite beetroot concoction involves throwing together a Puy lentil salad with beetroot and feta or goat’s cheese. The sweet earthiness of the beetroot is the ideal complement to the smoky lentils and the chalky cheese sets both off to perfection. Sometimes I add carrots or squash too to provide an orange contrast, and even a few cooked green beans if I have any. I like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s way of cooking the lentils, although I find they don’t take quite as long to cook as he suggests.

Beetroot & Puy Lentil Salad with Feta – serves 4-6

Beetroot and lentil salad

250g Puy lentils
Vegetable stock or water
1 bay leaf
Few sprigs thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Parsley sprigs
Juice of a lemon
Seasoning
4-6 beetroot
4 carrots (optional)
100g butternut squash (optional)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
100g goat’s cheese or feta
Dill to garnish

Wash the beetroots, cutting off the top and tail, then wrap individually in foil, before roasting in a hot oven at 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6. If serving squash and/or carrot as well, cut into chunky cubes or barrel shapes, sprinkle with olive oil, chopped garlic, seasoning and thyme leaves, then roast in an open dish at the same time as the beetroot, although they will probably only need 30-40 minutes. When tender, remove from the oven and cool. The beetroot skins should come off easily when cool, and the beetroot can then be cubed.

Meanwhile put the lentils in a pan, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil, simmer for just one minute, then drain. Return to the pan and just cover with more water or vegetable stock if you have it. Add the bay leaf, sprigs of thyme, garlic and parsley. Bring back to a simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes, until just tender. Drain the lentils, and discard the herbs. Dress with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, then season.

Serve the lentils lukewarm or cold with the roasted vegetables, more olive oil if required and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Garnish with dill and cubes of goat’s cheese or feta. The flavour gets even better as it sits, so don’t worry if you have leftovers for the next day…

Peas, courgettes and beetroot…

Peas

This has been a week of hefty pickings from the allotment – and with only me here to eat it all, my cooking has been very much variations on a theme! Hard to believe that just six weeks ago, I was worried whether the plants would survive the cold/slugs/pigeon attacks. I needn’t have fretted; the peas, mangetout and sugarsnap, have been amazing, outgrowing their net protection frame so much that I had to put in extension poles to raise the height (and stop those plump allotment pigeons pecking out the tips). The courgettes, sown and brought on in the warmth of the conservatory, have loved the freshly-manured bed and plentiful rain followed by sun, and almost growing before my eyes. I sowed two varieties this year, my old stalwart, the dark green Defender, and a pale green Italian variety from seed producers Franchi Sementi, called simply Genovese – which is delicious and very prolific. I wasn’t sure that seed from a hot country would do as well here, but so far I’m very impressed.

I try and walk down to the allotment every other evening in the harvesting season – or every evening if it’s very hot, especially if I have new plantings I need to keep watered. Even with such a short time interval between harvests, I am still returning with four or five courgettes and a punnet full of peas, to say nothing of soft fruit. I’ve given some away to friends and neighbours, of course, and my son and his fiancée visited briefly this weekend and went back after dinner with a vegetable box worth of fruit and veg from me and my son’s future in-laws. With tomatoes, lettuce and round courgettes from their smallholding, and sugarsnaps, straight courgettes, dill, jostaberries and dahlias from me, they can cancel this week’s Abel&Cole box without any qualms at all!

Baba ghanoush for lunch

It’s been surprisingly easy to come up with different combinations each night for dinner. I love eating the sugarsnaps raw with my simple lunch, but I’ve also had them in pasta sauce with fresh pesto and courgettes, as a quick & easy stir-fry with mushrooms and a hint of bacon, in a cream sauce with dill and smoked salmon to top linguine, and in a delicious pea orzotto inspired by Bake Off’s John Whaite via Twitter. I suspect this would also work with pearled spelt, although I haven’t tried it yet – or of course you could use rice, but cooking for a much shorter time as for a standard risotto.

Sugarsnap Orzotto with Tangy Feta & Mint – serves 2

Sugarsnap orzotto

1 litre vegetable stock, preferably homemade
300g sugarsnaps and/or mangetout peas
1 lemon, grated zest and juice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
125 – 150g pearl barley, rinsed and drained
Small glass white wine
Handful fresh dill, roughly chopped
Handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
100g feta cheese
Salt and pepper

Put the vegetable stock, 200g peas, half the lemon zest and the crushed garlic into a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the sugarsnaps are tender (mangetouts will need less time), then allow to cool. Blitz in a blender to a smooth liquid and sieve to remove strings – essential, even with fresh-picked sugarsnaps!
In a large, shallow casserole, heat a generous amount of olive oil over a medium heat, and add the chopped onions. Cook for 5 minutes or until transparent, then add the pearl barley and white wine. Bubble for a few minutes, than add some of the blended pea stock, half the lemon juice, seasoning and half the chopped dill and mint. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, topping up with more stock as it is absorbed by the barley. Chop the remaining sugarsnaps/mangetouts into bite-sized pieces and add after half an hour. You may not need all the stock, so keep an eye on it, and keep testing the barley for tenderness. Meanwhile, chop the feta cheese into small chunks and add the remaining lemon zest and juice, chopped mint and dill and a splash of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Leave to marinate while the risotto cooks. Once the pearl barley is tender, it is ready. Serve topped with the minty feta cheese, and garnish with extra raw sugarsnaps if you have any!

Earlier in the week, I also served both peas and courgettes raw in a sublime beetroot “rice” and feta salad adapted from a recipe suggestion in Olive magazine. I’ve grown two varieties this year, my favourite Cylindra for deliciously sweet, cylindrical beets that peel easily after roasting, and Chioggia, an usual and very pretty pink and white-striped beetroot. So far, I’ve found the taste of the Chioggia a little insipid when cooked, and the stripes/colour tend to fade to a muddy pink, which is disappointing – but grated raw in this salad, they were a revelation!

Beetroot “Rice” Salad with Feta, Sugarsnaps & Courgettes
– serves 2

Beetroot rice salad

4 raw beetroot (I used Chioggia), peeled and roughly chopped
Handful of dill, chopped
100g feta, chopped
100g sugarsnap peas, trimmed and roughly chopped
100g fresh courgettes, sliced very thinly into discs
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, roasted
Lettuce to serve

Tangy lemon dressing
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
6 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Handful dill, chopped (and/or mint)
Salt and pepper

Put the chopped beetroot into a food processor and process until it resembles grains of rice. Tip into a serving bowl. Make the dressing by blending all the ingredients together in a jar and shaking until emulsified. Pour half the dressing over the beetroot – you won’t need it all, but see how you go. Any left over will keep well in the fridge for a week. Mix in the toasted sunflower and cumin seeds, sugarsnaps and courgettes and finally sprinkle over the feta. Serve on a bed of lettuce and enjoy! It’s hard to believe something so healthy and raw can taste so good.

 

Beautiful broad beans

Just back from a fabulous week of yoga in the Spanish Alpujarras, I’m not even going to attempt to recreate the amazing vegetarian feasts we enjoyed on a daily basis in Las Chimeneas, not least because my tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines are still several weeks from being anywhere near fruition! To say nothing of cherries plucked straight from the tree, fresh peaches and apricots, and divinely buttery new potatoes….

Las Chimeneas salad lunch

What I do have, however, is a glut of broad beans, despite inviting friends to help themselves in my absence, and a plentiful supply of delectable English strawberries – perfect with my breakfast yogurt and muesli, as well as with meringue and whipped cream for the quintessential English pud. A week of heavy rain while I soaked up the Spanish sunshine has led to tremendous growth in the garden and at the allotment, so some of my broad beans have filled out rather more than I’d have liked: the ideal excuse to transform them into broad bean pesto! Having stripped my basil plants for Delia’s Pesto just before going away, I didn’t have quite enough fresh growth to harvest the 50g I needed for my standard Broad Bean Pesto, so a bit of adaptation was in order. Instead of basil, I chopped a generous fistful of fresh mint (Moroccan mint in my case, but ordinary garden mint would be fine too) and parsley, then filleted the broad beans after microwaving so that the end result was suitably emerald green and zingy.

Broad Bean, Mint & Parsley Pesto

Broad bean, mint & parsley pesto

12oz broad beans (after podding – you’ll probably need at least 2lb unpodded weight!)
1-2oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Large handful garden mint, thick stalks removed
Large handful parsley, thick stalks removed
2-3fl.oz virgin olive oil
Seasoning

Steam or microwave the broad beans for 2-3 minutes then blanch under cold water. Unless your beans are very tiny, fillet the beans by removing the outer grey shells – a little bit fiddly, but worth it for the end result and bright green colour.

Place all remaining ingredients apart from olive oil in a food processor with the filleted beans and whizz until smooth, pushing down the sides as required.

Add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream until you have a thickish consistency. You may not need it all, so keep checking.

Will keep for a couple of weeks, covered, in the fridge, or you can freeze.

Having made this heavenly green concoction, dinner for the past two nights has been child’s play: linguine with baby broad beans, smoked salmon, onions and a creamy pesto sauce last night, then a seriously good oven-baked risotto with broad bean pesto and king prawns tonight – heaven on a plate! As usual, this is an adaptation of Delia’s standard oven risotto, but none the worse for all that:

Broad Bean & Prawn Risotto – serves 2-3

Broad bean risotto

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
Generous glug of olive oil
75ml dry white wine
160g risotto rice
500ml home-made fish or vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)
2-3 tbsp broad bean, mint and parsley pesto (see above)
100g shelled baby broad beans (or use frozen peas if you’ve used up all your beans in the pesto, as I did, and can’t be bothered to trek down to the allotment for more!)
Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)
100g raw king prawns, defrosted if frozen
75g grated Parmesan cheese
Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and red pepper in the oil until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions and peppers in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine, pesto and the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Add the shelled baby broad beans or frozen peas, if using.

Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the raw prawns, 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and more chopped mint to garnish.

You could, of course, use the standard basil-based broad bean pesto and use pancetta or bacon instead of prawns – anything goes!

Awesome asparagus!

asparagus

I love this time of year when the asparagus really gets into its stride. Like most things, it’s seemed late this year, but mine has finally started producing its delectable stems in abundance now and I’m picking a good bunch every couple of days – such hardship! Needless to say, my meals are tending to centre around asparagus at the moment.

Having enjoyed the first few helpings simply steamed or roasted earlier in the week, last night’s menu featured oven-roasted asparagus, pancetta & pine nut risotto (sublime!) and tonight’s was an asparagus, smoked salmon & fennel tart, with coleslaw using my first spring cabbage from the allotment and a delicate herby salad with sorrel, spicy salad leaves, mint and lovage from the garden at home. Heavenly!

Asparagus, Smoked Salmon & Fennel Tart

Asparagus and smoked salmon tart

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Bunch of asparagus (I used 9 stems as that’s what I had!), woody stems removed

100g smoked salmon

Bunch of fennel

1 egg

3 tbsp double cream

3 tbsp finely grated Parmesan

Seasoning

Olive oil to drizzle

Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm all around the edge.

Mix the beaten egg and 3 tbsp double cream in a small bowl, season and add the chopped fennel leaves, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the shredded smoked salmon over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with finely grated Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a hot oven, 200°C fan or Gas 6 for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serve warm with fresh coleslaw or salad of your choice. Delicious cold too!

The risotto is simply a variation of Delia’s excellent oven-roast risotto, tweaked to suit the ingredients on offer. As ever, I made more than I needed and had the leftovers for lunch today as arancini, stuffed with garlic & herb cider-infused cow’s cheese (Scrumpy Sussex) from our local Stonegate Dairy. Very good  indeed…

Roast Asparagus, Pancetta & Pine Nut Risotto

Asparagus, pancetta and pine nut risotto

1 small onion, chopped

50g butter

 75ml dry white wine

170g risotto rice

500ml home-made vegetable or asparagus stock (use the woody stems) – plus extra just in case

1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (or 1 tsp dried if that’s what you have)

9-10 spears asparagus

100g pancetta or smoked bacon, chopped

75g grated Parmesan cheese

Handful pine nuts, toasted until just brown

Olive oil

Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and pancetta (or bacon) in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint – use to make stock if you have time). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine, allow to sizzle for a few minutes, then add the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped herbs, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pine nuts.

I’m toying with the idea of making the next batch into soup – is that sacrilege?! I’ve already made a stock with the woody stems, so it’s very tempting. It’s certainly not the kind of thing you’d do unless you had lots to play with! I’ll keep you posted…

The Joys of Seasonality

tulip recreado cropped Tulip Recreado

One of the things I love most about gardening and cooking is that they keep you attuned to the rhythm of the seasons. I’m pretty sure I’d hate to live in a country where there wasn’t a marked contrast between the various times of the year: what would you have to look forward to? As it is, I relish the first rhubarb of the year, then the first asparagus, and so on through the year. Every season has its favourites, right down to parsnips and leeks, which are all the better for a hard frost in the winter!

Flowers too are so much more special for their fleeting appearance in the year’s calendar. The tulips have been heavenly this year, just going past their best now, but rapidly being overtaken by the purple drumsticks of alliums in their moment of glory. I’ve been delighted by my Sarah Raven selection from last autumn: the deep purple Recreado, bright orange lily-flowered Ballerina, and fabulous rich red Couleur Cardinal. The one slight fly in the ointment was the Pimpernel, supposed to be a deep scarlet and intended to fill one of the tubs flanking either side of my garden arch with Couleur Cardinal on the other side. Unfortunately, they’ve come up as a pretty pink and white viridiflora variety (Groenland, perhaps?) – lovely, but definitely not what I ordered and certainly not the matching colour I’d hoped for!

Tulip BallerinaTulip Ballerina

Couleur Cardinale Tulips Tulip Couleur Cardinal Viridiflora tulips

Tulip viridiflora ???!

Tulips from previous years have flowered beautifully on my sunny island bed, as ever, with carmine-pink Doll’s Minuet, scarlet Oxford and apricot/pink Menton putting on a splendid show, preceded by the early and reliably perennial white Purissima. My experiment with last year’s container tulips down at the allotment was less successful, with only a few flowering again; the varieties I’d transplanted were the later-flowering Cairo, Belle Epoque, Ronaldo and Bruine Wimpel, and only a handful of the Cairo made an appearance, despite the bulbs being a decent size when I transplanted them. I’ll leave them in situ and see how they perform next year, but also try a few of this year’s earlier tulips and see how they do. It could be that they don’t get the baking they need due to the overshadowing asparagus ferns for much of the summer….

Seasonal harvests are another joy: my haul from the allotment this evening, despite the so-called hungry gap, was an impressive basket full of rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, purple-spouting broccoli and parsley!

Harvest May 2015I couldn’t believe how much the asparagus had grown since picking my first spears last weekend: there must have been well over a kilogram tonight. Fortunately, I was dropping a birthday card off at a friend’s house on my way home, so left a bag full of rhubarb and asparagus too!

Deciding what to cook with your seasonal goodies is another delight. I rarely plan ahead once the allotment is in full production, just wait and see what’s ready and then decide what I fancy cooking. Not unlike a Masterchef challenge, really, but with considerably less pressure…..

Tonight I opted for a Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto, followed by Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – heavenly combinations both.

Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto – serves 2-3 generous portions

Asparagus risotto 1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

50g butter

75ml dry white wine

170g risotto rice

500ml home-made vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)

Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)

Handful fresh parsley, chopped

10-12 spears asparagus

100g smoked salmon, chopped

75g grated Parmesan cheese

Olive oil

Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped mint and parsley, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and more chopped mint to garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – serves 6

Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub500g rhubarb, chopped

Juice and rind of 2 small oranges

5-6 tbsp demerara sugar

 300ml double cream

3 tbsp caster sugar

125ml dry white wine

2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

10-12 Amaretto biscuits, roughly crushed

Place the rhubarb in a shallow ovenproof dish and add the grated rind and juice of the oranges, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Leave to cool.

Whip the double cream, caster sugar, Amaretto liqueur and white wine until it holds its shape in loose swirls. Spoon the cooled rhubarb into the bottom of 6 stemmed sundae dishes (or wine glasses). Sprinkle the crushed Amaretti biscuits over each glass, then top with the syllabub. Top with any leftover biscuit crumbs, or a reserved piece of rhubarb, if you have any left.

Chill before serving and enjoy!

 

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…