Beetroot Risotto

I have been meaning to try making beetroot risotto for some time, but what give me the final push was seeing a photo of a delicious-looking one made by my friend Steve, and then having it in the excellent restaurant Oliva in Rotterdam recently. There seem to be several different approaches: boiling or roasting the beetroot whole first, grating and chopping it, pureeing some or all of the beetroot or cooking it with the rice.

My recipe uses grated raw beetroot, which gives a good texture and has the bonus of cooking in about the same time as the rice and using only one pan (some recipes really should carry a washing-up warning). When I ate it in the restaurant, it was served with flakes of smoked trout, which was a great combination, so I served mine for supper with a fillet of smoked trout and a green salad. If you’re serving it on its own, you could top it with a handful of toasted walnuts or some diced blue cheese. I do recommend serving a salad alongside it, as the risotto is quite rich. Quantities serve 2 – I used 120g of rice, but if you are serving it on its own or are quite hungry I would use 150g rice and the larger quantity of stock.

25g butter
olive oil
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
175g beetroot (1 large or 2 small)
120-150g risotto
2 tbsp vermouth or white wine
450-600ml vegetable stock
30g parmesan
2 sprigs thyme

Heat the butter with a splash of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Peel and finely chop the shallot and garlic, and cook them gently in the butter and oil for a few minutes. Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot – using the grater attachment of the food processor is quickest and reduces the Lady-Macbeth-hands problem, but a box grater works fine (and is easier to wash up…). Heat the stock until just simmering or make up Marigold bouillon with boiling water (you could, of course, use chicken stock if you’re not vegetarian).

Tip the beetroot into the pan and stir for a couple of minute, so it starts to glisten. Now add the rice and cook for a minute until it starts to sound dry. Pour in the vermouth and stir vigorously. Then start adding the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon, and waiting until it has been absorbed by the rice before you add the next ladleful.

In between stirring the risotto grate the parmesan and strip the thyme leaves off the stem. Add half the thyme leaves to the risotto. Now is also the time to wash the salad leaves and make a dressing for your green salad. After about 15-18 minutes most or all of the stock should have been incorporated, the beetroot be tender and the rice just al dente. When it is ready stir in three-quarters of the parmesan (and another knob of butter if you wish). Check the seasoning and serve with the remaining parmesan and thyme and your preferred toppings or accompaniments.

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Lentil and sweet potato pie

This vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, proved to be perfect for dinner on an autumnal day when neither of us felt like cooking anything too demanding. This was partly because I was having a bake-in, making brownies and a fig and blackberry tart, inspired by one I’d eaten at Allegra McEvedy’s wonderful wine bar Albertine (only thing wrong with it is that it’s not round the corner from my flat!).

So I cooked this comforting pie, fragrant with thyme and spices but requiring only some chopping, stirring and mashing, alongside the baking. It was a substantial dinner: I made a half quantity, and have almost two portions left, so the full recipe below would feed six generously and eight more politely, especially if you were serving a starter and dessert. I have slightly reduced the quantity of sweet potato, but feel free to add an extra sweet potato if you like lots of mash. Next time, I might try adding a bay leaf and some mushrooms to the lentils, as I think they would go well and ring the changes.

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
4 spring onions
grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
2 clove garlic
slug of olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
half a small pack of thyme
1 400g tin tomatoes
400g puy lentils

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender either by baking in the oven at 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6 for 30-45 minutes (depending on size; remember to pierce the skins so they don’t explode), or boiling them in a pan of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. I baked mine because I wanted some for making brownies too, and I had the oven on for pre-baking a pastry case. Heat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200º/gas 7 for the pie.

Peel and chop the carrots and onions, trim and chop the celery and finely chop the garlic. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a slug of olive oil and, when hot, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they are softening. Roughly crush the cumin, and add all the spices and the leaves of the thyme to the pan. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the tin of tomatoes, the lentils and two tins full of water. Crush the tomatoes a bit with your spoon and turn up the heat to bring everything to a brisk simmer. Give it a stir from time to time, and add a little extra water if necessary. After 15-20 minutes the lentils should be just cooked and the sauce thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan, chop the spring onion and cook it gently in the oil for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato and mash. Check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Tip the lentil mixture into an oven dish and top with the mashed sweet potato, roughing up the surface with a fork. I added a  few knobs of butter on the top, because that’s what I do with shepherd’s pie to get a nice crispy top, but obviously don’t do this if you’re cooking for vegans.

Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden and the pie is sizzling hot. I followed the recipe in adding some thyme to the top of the mash, but I don’t recommend this – the thyme just crisps up without adding much flavour and makes it look disconcertingly as if the pie is covered in dead flies!

Serve with steamed green, such as cavolo nero, kale, spring greens or cabbage. And don’t blame me if you feel very full afterwards.

Thai salad

This salad goes very well with a lot of the Indonesian dishes we like, providing a fresh, crunchy counterpoint to Nasi Goreng, Ajam Ketjap or Tomato and Prawn Curry. With some fried slices of tofu and rice (or Nasi Goreng without the bacon) it would make a good vegetarian/vegan meal – though you’ll need to use a little extra soy sauce instead of the fish sauce in the dressing.

1 cucumber
1 carrot
100g unsalted cashews
1 red pepper
2 spring onions
small packet of coriander leaves
small packet of basil

Dressing:
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 dstsp fish sauce
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli (or 1-2 tsp chilli sauce)
1 tsp sugar
White pepper

Roast the cashews in a frying pan preheated over medium high heat, watching and turning them for a few minutes until they are starting to brown and smelling delicious. Set aside to cool.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic, finely chop the chilli and then whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl or jar (and, no, I haven’t forgotten to list the oil – that’s one of the reasons the salad so light and refreshing). Check the seasoning – you can of course use black pepper if you don’t have white – and adjust to taste.

To prepare the salad, slice the cucumber and cut the slices in half. Grate the carrot on the coarse side of the grater. Thinly slice the red pepper and spring onion.

Combine the salad vegetables in a bowl. If you’re preparing ahead cover the bowl and dressing with cling film and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Then add the cashews and  toss with the dressing. Pick the leaves of the coriander and basil and create a bed of them in a shallow serving dish. Spoon the salad on top and serve.

Quinoa with greens and avocado

Over the last few years I have found myself cooking more vegetarian meals,  and this was boosted when I was given A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones by my lovely brother, who is now vegan. I had tried a few of Anna Jones’s recipes from The Guardian and am now thoroughly enjoying cooking my way through the book.

I already have a few favourites: the excellent Dahl with crispy sweet potatoes, Beetroot with salsa verde and Laura’s herbed green quinoa, which has inspired this recipe – a sort of cross with Ottolenghi’s Avocado, quinoa and broad bean salad, a much-loved regular on my table and at picnics.

The first time I read the recipe I didn’t have any broccoli or leek – key ingredients in Anna’s recipe – but loved the idea of herby green quinoa so I substituted broad beans and used chopped spring onions rather than the leek. I think you could use kale (along the lines of this Kale and quinoa salad) or lettuce instead of the spinach, too. I have since cooked something more similar to the original recipe, and both versions are good. The quantities here are for two people.

100g quinoa
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
100g frozen peas
120g frozen broad beans
3 spring onions (or 1 leek)
1 unwaxed lemon
extra virgin olive oil
½ a small packet of basil
½ a small packet of mint
80g spinach
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 avocado
100g feta cheese (optional)

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, tip into a pan and add 300ml of water. Bring to the boil, add the stock powder and stir, then turn down the heat and simmer for around 12 minutes until the seeds have opened into their distinctive curl and the water has been absorbed. Anna Jones cooks a lemon, halved, with the quinoa, which adds a certain tang, but I think I prefer just using the juice and rind in the dressing – take your pick. When the quinoa is about done, I usually turn the heat off and leave the quinoa to steam dry on the hot ring for 5 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking bring a small pan of water to boil and cook the broad beans for 1 minute, then add the peas and simmer for a further 2 minutes. If you have purple-sprouting or tender stem broccoli, cut off the heads, chop the stalks and add them on top of the peas and beans to steam for a few minutes. Drain the lot and run quickly under the cold tap to stop the cooking. Finely slice the spring onion or leek, and if using leek, cook it slowly in a little olive oil for about 10 minutes.

Pick the herbs from the stems and chop them, keeping a few small leaves for garnish. Wash and shred the spinach. Toast the seeds or pine nuts in a hot dry frying pan for a few minutes, watching and stirring to make sure they don’t catch.

Put the quinoa, herbs and vegetables into a large bowl, zest the lemon over them and add a grinding of black pepper, the juice of half the lemon – you may want more – and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss together, check for seasoning, then crumble over the feta (if you’re using) and top each portion with the reserved herbs, some toasted seeds or pine nuts and half a sliced avocado.

Gado Gado with peanut sauce

When I first read about Gado Gado I didn’t think it sounded that appetising: a salad of cold cooked vegetables with hard-boiled eggs and cold crispy onions on top. And then I had Marlene’s version and it was absolutely delicious. So I persuaded her to tell me how to make it.

Marlene served it with rice and Babi Ketjap, but you can just have the salad on its own or with chicken satay. For a vegan Gado Gado, omit the eggs and add some firm tofu sliced and fried in a little olive oil until crisp. It is quite flexible, in that you can use whatever vegetables are to hand, though bean sprouts, cucumber, cabbage and green beans are usually included, and sugar snap peas are good. It is dead easy to make, though you do have prepare the vegetables individually – unless you have cooked vegetables that you’re eating up – and you’ll find two colanders (or a colander and a sieve) useful to drain everything.

Ketjap manis is Indonesian sweet soy sauce – if you can’t find it (or don’t want yet another bottle in your pantry) then use ordinary soy sauce with 1 tsp of brown sugar or honey. You should be able to find small tubs of crispy onions alongside the Thai or Chinese ingredients in the supermarket (Waitrose include them in their Cook’s Ingredients range). I’m not sure my dedication would extend to making them myself. Prawn crackers seem to live alongside crisps (oddly, to my mind – but maybe people do eat them as a snack with their beer).

Start by making the peanut sauce – I always make lots, even if I’m only cooking for me, as it is so delicious with lots of other things! Choose peanut butter with the highest percentage of peanuts that you can find (and without sugar). You can use raw peanuts if you prefer, in which case stir fry them in a wok in 100ml of vegetable oil until they are golden, then blend until smooth in a food processor. Anna Jones uses a different method, using roasted peanuts, bashing them in a pestle and mortar and then simmering in 200ml of water, and flavouring it with lemongrass and ginger – not authentic, but sounds worth a try.

Peanut or satay sauce:
2 shallots or ½ small onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
a little vegetable oil for frying
1 dstsp sambal badjak or 1 red chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp shrimp paste (terassi) or 1 tsp Thai fish sauce (optional)
250g crunchy peanut butter
Juice of about 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsps Ketjap manis
100 ml coconut milk (optional)

Fry a chopped shallot or a bit of onion in a little oil until it is soft (you could also just use dried onion). Add the sambal or a chopped red chilli and, if you want, a little bit of terassi (Indonesian shrimp paste – notoriously smelly) or 1 tsp of Thai fish sauce, to add depth of flavour.

Stir in the peanut butter and dilute with water – you’ll need at least 200 ml and probably more. You can add the coconut milk at this stage, if you’re using it, which will make a richer sauce. Add 1-2 tbsps of ketjap manis (or soy sauce and sugar) and the lemon juice, then taste and keep adjusting the seasonings until you are happy with it. Serve warm. The sauce will thicken as it cools, so if there is any left over you may need to dilute it further with water.

Salad:
Salad potatoes
Green beans
Carrots
Cabbage (Chinese for preference)
Beansprouts
Cucumber
Red pepper
Spring onions
Eggs (1 each)
Crispy onions
Chopped chives to garnish
Prawn crackers to serve

You will notice that I haven’t given quantities – this is because you really can use whatever combination of vegetables you have, and vary the quantities according to how hungry you are and how many people you’re feeding. When I made this for myself I used a handful of beansprouts, 2 charlotte potatoes, 50g green beans, ¼ of a Chinese cabbage, 2 spring onions, about 5 cm of cucumber and ¼ of a red pepper – and had leftovers.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and simmer until tender – about 15-20 minutes depending on size. Drain and cut the potatoes into chunks unless they’re very small. Bring another pan of water to the boil, top and tail the beans and blanch them for 4-5 minutes. If you’re using carrots, cut into batons and cook along with the beans – they’ll probably need a minute or two more than the beans, so put them in first. When they are  cooked, drain them in a colander and quickly run them under the cold tap to stop the cooking (and keep the beans bright green). Leave to drain thoroughly.

Shred the cabbage. If you’re using regular white cabbage you will need to steam it for 5-8 minutes until it is tender – you can do this over the simmering potatoes. Forget the modern habit of cooking everything al dente: the cabbage needs to be tender, and tastes better for it. However, I found the Chinese cabbage I was using was closer to lettuce and only needed a brief dousing in boiling water, like the beansprouts: just put them in a colander, pour boiling water over them (you can use the boiling water from the potatoes or beans), and leave to drain.

Hard boil the eggs in barely simmering water – I add the eggs (broad end pricked to reduce the risk of cracking) to boiling water, turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 9 minutes. Then run under cold water until cool enough to handle, peel and cut in half. Wash the cucumber and red pepper. Slice the cucumber and then halve them if you wish. Marlene runs the tines of a fork vertically down the skin all round the cucumber first, which gives an attractive deckled edge. Core the red pepper and cut into narrow slices. Trim the spring onions and slice finely.

Arrange all the vegetables, except for the spring onions, in groups on a large shallow dish. Scatter over the spring onions and arrange the hard boiled eggs on top. Finish with a scatter of chives and serve with the peanut sauce, and dishes of crispy onions and prawn crackers for people to help themselves.

Venetian carrot cake

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Having succumbed to a big bag of less-than-perfect carrots on the grounds that they were such good value (and who needs straight carrots anyway) I thought I would make carrot cake. However, I’m not a fan of the traditional American variety with cream cheese frosting, so I was very taken with this Nigella carrot cake recipe which is apparently from the Venetian ghetto. It uses ground almonds rather than flour (so is gluten-free), is studded with sultanas soaked in rum and topped with toasted pine nuts.

Nigella suggests serving it with rum-flavoured mascarpone, which sounded a bit much for tea-time, so I opted for a mixture of ricotta and greek yoghurt beaten together with a grating of nutmeg – and that was a good idea. I reduced the quantities a little to make a 20cm cake. I might try using a bit less sugar next time, as the sultanas are quite sweet, but this is a fine cake as it is – perfect with morning coffee or afternoon tea and, I hope, for providing sustenance for the last leg of our walk to the source of the Thames!

2 rounded tbsp pine nuts
2 carrots (approx 200g)
60g sultanas
50ml rum
120g caster sugar
100ml olive oil
scant tsp vanilla extract
3 small eggs (weight 180g)
200g ground almonds
freshly grated nutmeg
juice & zest of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 165 C fan/180 C/Gas 4. Prepare the cake tin by lining the base with greaseproof paper and lightly oiling the sides. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat – watching them like a hawk – and put them on one side as soon as they are golden.

Grate the carrots on the coarse side of a box grater (Nigella says that it is easier to use the food processor, but in my view this is only the case if someone else is doing the washing up and putting away for you).  Tip onto a double layer of kitchen roll and wrap them up to extract any excess liquid. Put the sultanas in a small saucepan with the rum, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

Measure the oil and sugar into a mixing bowl and whisk together until creamy. Then whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs, which I did one at a time to make sure they were well mixed in. Fold in the ground almonds, grated carrots, sultanas with their rum, and the lemon zest and juice. Finally grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the bowl and give it a last stir.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin, and smooth the top – it will look quite thin. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and bake for 30-40 mins until it has risen, the top is golden and a wooden skewer comes out fairly clean.

Leave it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before unmoulding, and transfer it to a rack to cool. If you wrap it in cling film it will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container (should you accidentally make the cake the day before you go on a strict diet – otherwise I don’t think it will last that long).

If you fancy the ricotta alongside, just mix equal quantities of ricotta and greek yoghurt until smooth and stir in a little grated nutmeg. Nigella’s more decadent accompaniment calls for 250g mascarpone mixed with 2 tsp icing sugar and 2 tbsp rum.

Mushrooms with polenta

This is my favourite stand-by lunch or supper at the moment – it takes about 20 minutes, is easy, satisfying and really tasty. I found the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Veg Everyday!, when I needed to eat up some mushrooms and didn’t fancy my usual options: risotto, mushrooms on toast or mushroom tart (a puff pastry turnover, filled with creamy mushrooms – a delicious recipe given to me by my mother’s friend Sarah). The mushrooms are dark and winy and the parmesan-flavoured polenta soaks up the juices (use a substitute for the parmesan if you are cooking for a strict vegetarian).

I used chestnut mushrooms the first time – as that is what I had – but next time I got a mixture of chestnut and portabella, which was even nicer. I think the recipe would work fine with most kinds of mushroom, especially the dark flat-cap ones. Delicate varieties might not stand up to the robust wine and herb flavourings. You can stir some chopped rosemary into the polenta at the end, if you want to. These quantities are for one, as I cooked it.

Polenta:
100ml milk
100ml water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 spring onion, trimmed
40g quick-cook polenta
a knob of butter
a good grating of Parmesan

Mushrooms:
small slug of olive oil
small knob of butter
175g mushrooms (see above)
1 clove garlic, minced
leaves from a sprig of thyme
40ml red wine topped up to 80ml with water
salt & black pepper

Put the milk and water in a pan with the bay leaf, thyme, spring onion and a good grind of pepper and heat to a simmer. Then put aside to infuse while you prepare the mushrooms.

Trim the mushrooms and slice them thickly. Put the oil and butter in a frying pan and put over a medium-high heat. When melted, add the mushrooms, turn the heat up and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released their juices, and are starting to get drier again and caramelise. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minute.

Now add the wine and water (you could use stock instead of water if you have it to hand, or indeed just use 80ml of a good vegetable or mushroom stock if you prefer). I have recently acquired some little 90ml Duralex glasses and find them really useful for approximately measuring small quantities of liquid like this. Bring up to a simmer, turn down the heat and leave to cook until about half the liquid has evaporated (say 7-10 minutes). While this is happening, I prepare a green salad to eat with it. When the mushrooms are about ready check the seasoning and turn the heat right down while you make the polenta.

Fish out the bay leaf and thyme from the milk and bring back up to a simmer. Pour in the polenta, stirring all the while to get a smooth mixture. I use a silicone spatula for this, as it is useful for getting all the polenta out of the pan afterwards. Keep stirring over medium heat for one minute – no more, as the polenta thickens quickly. Then pull off the heat, stir in the butter and parmesan and scoop onto your plate. Top with the mushrooms, add a drizzle of olive oil and/or a few shavings of parmesan if you wish, and devour with the salad.