Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom risotto was the first dish that I ever really wanted to cook myself, and since I mastered it it's been a staple. I first tried making it on a whim when I was a student in Falmouth; I consulted no recipes so had none of the right ingredients and no idea what I was doing. I allowed the mushrooms to get too wet, used cheap mild cheddar in place of parmesan, used no wine and, the biggest sin of all, used American long grain rice instead of risotto rice. The result was... disappointing, to say the least. The mushroom juices combined with the cheddar to create a gluey film around the rice which gunked up my fork and my teeth, the rice was stodgy and yet it was still all rather wet. It nearly put me off cooking for good, but I love mushroom risotto so much I tried again a few years later, this time after doing some research and getting the right ingredients. It turned out to be incredibly simple to make and it's been one of my quick n lazy recipes ever since. It's so easy to make that I've never had to write it down before.

                                                                                                                                                                   (c) Becca Thorne 2014

A lot of recipes suggest using parsley; I tend not to bother, but it makes a fresh addition for a more summery flavour if you fancy it. Porcini aren't strictly necessary either, but they make for a much richer, more intense flavour, so if you've got them, use them. Risotto is incredibly versatile, but there are a few basic rules you should follow when making it with any veg:
First, you have to use a risotto or paella rice. Without it you won't get the smooth creaminess that comes from the abundance of starch the fat little grains release. Arborio is generally the cheapest, and the variety you're most likely to find in UK supermarkets, but there are lots of others choose from too.
Second, ignore all the usual rice-making rules. Risotto should be cooked with the lid off and stirred often. This encourages the release of those all important starch molecules and stops everything sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Third, you really need the wine. Prefereably a medium or dry white, even if it's the cheapest dry white you can find, but don't try using sweet or rose as I once did after someone gave us a bottle of nasty Zinfandel. It's not pleasant.

Another thing to consider is the mushrooms themselves. While we've been in Moglietta we've been buying a big tub of oyster mushrooms every time we've gone food shopping, and they've created a slightly more delicate and fragrant, but no less deliciously mushroomy, risotto. When we lived near St Nicholas Market in Bristol we'd buy amazing chestnut mushrooms from the farmer's market there that made the risotto amazingly nutty, warming and autumnal. The white closed-cups you get in supermarkets will do, but it goes without saying that the more flavoursome the mushroom the more flavoursome the risotto.

Serves 2

Approx 1 standard punnet mushrooms, sliced
Small handful of dried porcini, soaked in approx 200ml boiling water for 10-20 mins (optional)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed
1 cup arborio (or other risotto) rice - I use a small mug
1 pint hot mushroom or veg stock
1 glass white wine
parmesan/pecorino type cheese, grated (approx 25-50g)
black pepper
olive oil
handful of chopped parsley (optional)

Heat a slug of olive oil over a medium heat and cook the mushrooms and garlic, with plenty of black pepper, stirring periodically to prevent the garlic burning. When the mushrooms have softened, browned and released their juices and the liquid has begun to reduce, add the rice, stir to thoroughly coat the grains in the remaining mushroom juices, then stir in the wine and allow it to bubble away until it's reduced. This should take just a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the now soft and rehydrated porcini from their soaking water and chop them into small pieces, then add them to the pan. Use the soaking water in the stock.

Once the wine has been absorbed, turn up the heat to med-high, and start adding the stock. Do this bit-by-bit, adding eg. a quarter to a third of the liquid and allowing it to be almost entirely absorbed before adding the next portion. Stir frequently to prevent burning and to encourage the starch to be released from the rice. Do this until all the stock has been used up and the rice is soft, but the grains are still distinctly separate and retain a little bite without getting stuck in your teeth. You want the sauce to have a creamy, velvety consistency - loose without being wet (the rice shouldn't be swimming in liquid). Add grated parmesan to taste and stir well to combine. Add the parsley if using and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Minty Broad Bean 'Pesto'

As it's so sunny here in Italy right now, it seems appropriate that my first post should be something summery and fresh. I love broad beans. The first meal of the year to use fresh broad beans is always a treat that heralds summer and bears the promise of more homegrown delights to come. Any normal year we'd have eaten tonnes of the fat green beauties by now, but this year is not normal. If you follow my illustration blog or any of my social media you'll know that my partner and I recently moved out of our house in Leicester, where we've been for the past four years, and are currently travelling in Europe before a move to Nottingham. That means we've had to give up our allotment, and I miss it far more than I imagined, but fortunately my in-laws gave us a load of their broad beans before we left, so we didn't miss out completely!

We took such a large bagful from their veg patch that I found myself having to find ways to use them up before they went off, thus this minty 'pesto' was born. Not only is it perfect when you've got a glut, it's also fabulously fresh-tasting, gloriously green and incredibly moreish. I'm usually firmly against the peeling of broad beans, but as this recipe is so very simple it doesn't seem such a pain and I felt it really needed it - not only does it enhance the wonderful green colour, but it also makes the sauce good and smooth too. There are a gazillion different methods for shelling broad beans, so use whichever method you think best, but I steamed them until they were soft and the skins were starting to burst, ran them under cold water until they were cool enough to handle and then a gentle squeeze popped them out easily.

I used this as a pasta sauce, but it would also make a delicious dip and was just as tasty cold as leftovers for lunch. Good for approx 250g dried pasta.

                                                          (c) Becca Thorne 2014

Approx 400g podded broad beans, steamed and shelled 
2 decent-sized garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Good handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Small handful of parsley, roughly chopped (optional)
Approx 25g nuts (eg. hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews), roughly chopped
Approx 25g parmesan/pecorino style cheese, grated
Juice of 1 lime
Good olive oil (this recipe uses a lot of it, so use the best oil you can as the flavour will come through)
Sea salt flakes (eg. Maldon)

Put all the ingredients except the salt and olive oil into a bowl or blender. Add a good slug of olive oil and blend until smooth, adding more oil if necessary. The mix will be probably be a bit stiff and sticky, so keep stirring in more olive oil until it reaches a nice, pesto-y consistency; you want it to be loose, smooth and everso slightly oily (if you're using it as a dip it can be left stiffer, but if you're making a pasta sauce it needs to be able to coat the pasta without becoming dried out - you can always add more oil later if in doubt). The flavour should be fresh and lightly minted with a hint of lime and the salty tang of pecorino. Add sea salt to taste and eat as soon as possible.