mushroom and parsley risotto

DSCF7060

I sometimes think that risotto is one of the most versatile dishes I know. Almost anything can be put in with the rice, and a delicious dish will always be the result. With a bit of time spare at the weekend, you can really put in the effort to create something amazing. For example, roasting vegetables and garlic in olive oil, and then taking effort to infuse the risotto rice with Moroccan spices, before combining the two for a dish full of colour and flavour. Or, say, a sweet potato and rosemary risotto – taking time to whizz up the sweet potato in a blender for a brilliant bright orange colour. Maybe, if you’re going to roast vegetables and garlic, you’d like to roast tomatoes to complement the earthy flavour of a turmeric-yellow risotto. Just to name but two examples. If you’re interested. But just as easily, within 20ish minutes, you can add mushrooms, tease out and enhance their flavour with parsley, and have a satisfying dinner.

Ingredients

  • Button mushrooms, to taste, halved
  • Arborio risotto rice, approximately 100g per person
  • 250ml hot vegetable stock per person
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • Grated cheddar cheese, to taste
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Method

  1. Heat in a large saucepan a little olive oil with some butter, and add the risotto rice. It is important to remember that the size of the pan must reflect the amount of rice – keeping it on ‘one level’ during cooking ensures half doesn’t out-cook the rest! This means you will have an evenly cooked meal. Stir the risotto rice in the oil and butter continuously, until the edges of each grain become slightly transparent.
  2. Add the sliced garlic, and fry until it smells aromatic. Then, add a ladle of hot stock, and stir. It is incredibly important to add the stock gradually – as it is added, it is absorbed by the rice, cooking it. If it is added too quickly, it will evapourate away but the rice may remain slightly raw. DSCF7055
  3. Half way through adding the stock, stir in the mushrooms, and sprinkle with the parsley. They will cook in the stock, and will darken in colour and reduce in size. Keep adding the stock to the mushrooms and the rice. As it is added, it should begin to form a small sauce, and the rice should be tender but with a slight ‘bite’ in the centre. Add another ladle of stock as the previous one is absorbed almost fully – if you run out of stock, just use boiling water. This process should take around 20 minutes.
  4. Keep on the heat for 5 minutes more to ensure it is all warmed through. Risotto is not meant to be thick, but creamy and spill onto the plate – if yours is too stodgy, add a little more hot water.
  5. Once the risotto is cooked, take it off the heat, add a knob of butter, and place a lid on the pan. Leave for 2 minutes, and add the grated cheddar.
  6. Leave the risotto with a lid on again for around 5 minutes, to allow the flavours to combine, absorbing the butter and cheese for extra ‘ooze’.
  7. Pour the risotto into a deep bowl. Drizzle a little oil over the top, if it needs further breaking up to ‘ooze’. Season, top with a little more parsley, and serve.

 

pork and sage lasagne

Although it was a while ago now, I am coming round to think that perhaps I was too harsh with my branding of lasagne as a “Food Technology” dish. Before I broke up from University for the holidays, I ate out with my family, and saw on the menu a roasted pork lasagne – which as I’m sure you’ll agree, sounds fairly sophisticated. A far cry from a school kitchen. Despite having no recipe for this dish, it sounded delicious; knowing how to cook pork, garlic and peppers respectively, I guessed that it’d turn out okay!

Whilst the main components of the dish were given in the restaurant menu, I chose to modify the tomato sauce, using sage to replace the basil or oregano found in ordinary lasagne. The herb sage pairs perfectly with pork. Used most frequently in sausages, the sage gives a savoury and minimal peppery flavour to the meat. Opting for this instead of Italian basil or oregano sets this lasagne aside from the usual bolognese variety, and thus makes it stand out as a dish. Moreover, the ready-listed ingredients went well with the choice of herb. Roast garlic is far sweeter in taste compared to the sometimes harsh flavours of raw pureed garlic – combined with the sage, the peppery nature of the herb offsets the sweetness of the garlic and creates an excellent balance of flavours. So here is my make-shift recipe, inspired by the menu of a lovely little pub in Kenilworth.

Ingredients

  • 350g diced pork
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, skin left on, with one end trimmed
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 400g tin of tomatoes
  • ½ tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • Dried sage
  • 20g butter
  • 20g flour
  • 300ml cold milk
  • Grated cheddar cheese, to taste

Method

  1. Timing is crucial to this recipe – have a watch or a clock to hand!
  2. In a large piece of silver foil, place the garlic cloves with their skin still on with one end trimmed. Season with salt and coat in a small amount of olive oil. Wrap the foil tightly, and place in the oven for 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the time – half way through the 25 minutes place the peppers in the oven to roast too.
  3. Whilst the garlic is cooking, prepare the two sauces and the pork.
  4. Begin with the tomato sauce, as this needs to simmer for the longest, and therefore can be left on the back burner whilst other components are made. Begin frying sliced red onions; when softened, add the tinned tomatoes and stir. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer.
  5. Around this time, the 25 minutes for the garlic should be reaching half way. To an oiled baking tray add the sliced peppers, and place in the oven for the remainder of the cooking period for the garlic.
  6. Heat a small amount of oil in frying pan over a medium heat. As the oil warms, add the diced pork and fry until browned, seasoning with pepper. When browned, remove from the heat and cut each pork piece into thin slices.
  7. Take the tomato sauce off the heat, and add the balsamic vinegar. Break the shape of the tomatoes against the side of the saucepan. Season, and sprinkle in some dried sage. Stir in the pork slices.
  8. Check the garlic and peppers – remove from the oven. Add the peppers whole to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Open the foil wrap and leave the garlic to cool slightly, then squeeze the soft garlic out from the hardened clove shell into the tomato sauce. Stir once more, and then return the sauce to the heat to simmer through again.
  9. Now turn your attention to the béchamel sauce. Melting the butter in the pan, add flour until a ball forms. Stir in the milk gradually until a smooth sauce is created; season and add grated cheese to taste.
  10. As all components are complete, now is the time to form the lasagne! In a deep oven-proof dish, layer the lasagne – to ensure the lasagne doesn’t stick to the bottom of the dish, first place down a layer of pork and tomato sauce, followed by lasagne sheets.
  11. Then, order another layer of pork sauce, followed by béchamel sauce, followed by lasagne sheets. Repeat this order until all the sauces are used up, finishing with a layer of béchamel sauce over lasagne sheets. Top the final layer of béchamel sauce with more grated cheese, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the top is browned and slightly crisp.
  12. Remove from the oven, and serve with a fresh rocket salad.

sweet potato, green bean and mozzarella pie

I had big visions of today, Bank Holiday Monday, being beautifully sunny; lots of people around, and a big spread of food on the table greeted with light hearted conversation, followed by a long summer evening. But, as it is exam term (no people) and I live in Coventry (no sun, basically ever.), my illusion was shattered as I spent the afternoon in the library translating Latin. However, I am determined not to give up. This pie is destined for a checkered table cloth, amongst other mini-nibbles, in honour of a special occasion! It cries out to be eaten after a gathering outdoors, the type undoubtedly shown in an idyllic M&S advert.

I chose to make the pie this size because I believed it made it perfect for a starter, or as part of a larger spread – its fantastic flavour is given to you in a burst, enticing you to try other foods and enjoy the rest of the meal. The use of the sweet potato and green beans together gave the dish brilliant colour – as the pastry is gradually eaten, the contrasting hues are revealed, giving the dish an air of impression.

However, despite the use of mozzarella for binding the ingredients together in some way, I was concerned about a lack of sauce. Whilst this pie is not intended to be a wintry staple such as a Shepherds’ pie, which requires a good meaty sauce, the potential dryness of the dish led me to looking into ways to modify the recipe to give it moisture. I decided to add onions and garlic, fried in a little olive oil. Not only did they together bring extra flavour, the small amount of olive oil served sufficiently to coat the ingredients and prevent dryness. This, combined with the melted mozzarella, bound the roasted sweet potato and tender green beans together beneath the pastry, strengthening the overall textures of the dish.

Finally, even though this is a great vegetarian dish, if you did want to add meat, I think chicken would compliment this well. It works well in dishes without sauces, and would go well with the mozzarella and green beans. This pie is light, and so shouldn’t be brought down by heavy accompaniments – a green salad, would go perfectly.

Ingredients

  • Medium sweet potato, peeled and diced – roughly one sweet potato per two people
  • Green beans, trimmed and halved
  • Red onion, diced – quarter per person
  • ½ ball of mozzarella per person, torn into small pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • Chili flakes, to taste
  • Green salad, to serve
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Cold water 

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the diced sweet potato in an oven-proof dish with a small knob of butter. Sprinkle with the chili flakes to taste, and then roast for 20 minutes until tender.
  2. Whilst the sweet potato is roasting, boil the beans in water until tender. To make the pastry, gently rub together in a bowl the butter and flour with the tips of your fingers. Ensure this is done lightly and continue to do so, until a mixture resembling fine breadcrumbs is achieved.  Add small amounts of cold water at a time, and stir with a fork until a ball of pastry is formed – I find the best way to add water without it drowning the mixture is to use the drips from the cold tap that occur directly after it has been turned off! Cover the pastry, and place in the fridge until later.
  3. Once the beans are cooked, drain, and return the now empty pan to the hob. Add a small drizzle of olive oil, and fry the onion and garlic until softened and slightly browned. Remove from the hob, and place the beans back in the pan alongside the onion and garlic mixture.
  4. Now that the sweet potato is tender, remove from the oven, and stir in the beans, onion and garlic. Sprinkle in the torn pieces of mozzarella, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Remove the pastry from the fridge – roll out on a floured side until thin, and then drape on top of the pie dish. Pinch round the edges of the dish (being careful if it is still hot!), until the pastry is securely in place.
  6. Place the pie in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes further, or until the pastry is golden brown.
  7. Serve with a green side salad, and enjoy the party!