Beetroot Risotto

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.

Beetroot risottoMy 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).

Risotto rice in pan with grated beetroot and stockTip 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.

Spring risotto

Spring RisottoIt has been such a joy to have a few bright, sunny days – even though the wind is still cold, it feels as if the year has turned. There are daffs, euphorbia, hellebores, astrantia and, amazingly, jasmine in flower on my terrace and the roses are putting out leaves. As well as the pleasure of seeing my plants come back to life, I have been enjoying cooking lighter, fresher food, though still with enough heft to keep out that cold wind. This risotto should be called Risotto Primavera, I suppose, though I’m not sure it deserves its Italian name as I can’t claim that the recipe is authentic. It is based on the first risotto I learned to cook properly, from Antonio Carluccio’s An Invitation to Italian Cooking in 1986. His recipe made me realise how important stirring in the extra butter and parmesan at the end were to the taste and texture of the dish.

You can, of course, vary the vegetables according to what you have to hand providing the overall quantities are similar. I have been served risotto primavera with young carrots in, but personally I prefer to stick to green vegetables. In the days when I had an asparagus patch, this was a very useful recipe for the days when I had too few asparagus spears to serve on their own and leeks are good too (cook them gently in the butter at the start). Later in the year it is lovely with fresh peas and beans, but we are still in the ‘hunger gap’ as it used to be called – the time when the winter supplies are nearly over but the new spring vegetables aren’t yet ready to eat.

For 2 as a light lunch, served with a green salad.

3-4 spring onions
a little olive oil
30g butter
a splash of vermouth or white wine (optional)
150g arborio rice
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
120g frozen peas
80g frozen broad beans
80g green beans
1 small courgette
salt and pepper
30g parmesan, grated
leaves from a stem or two of basil, chopped

Trim and chop the spring onions – you can use shallots or half a small onion if you prefer. Heat a little olive oil with half the butter in a saucepan and gently cook the onions until they start to soften. Heat the stock in a separate saucepan and keep it at a gentle simmer. Add the rice to the onions and turn it in the butter for a minute or two. Pour in a good slug of vermouth or white wine and stir until it has evaporated. Then, keeping the heat moderate, start the process of adding the hot stock to the rice a ladleful at a time, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to release the starch from the rice and make the risotto creamy.

Top and tail the green beans and cut them into 2 cm pieces. Trim the courgettes, cut them into four lengthwise and then across into dice. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 4 minutes or until they are nearly tender. Scoop them out into a colander using a slotted spoon. Bring the water back to the boil and set the timer for four minutes. First add the broad beans, then after a minute add the peas and a minute later the courgettes. When the timer rings drain the vegetables, keeping some of the cooking water in case you need a bit of extra liquid for the risotto. By this time the rice should be beginning to swell. When the rice has been cooking for 15 minutes tip the vegetables into the pan, and continue adding the stock and stirring for a further 5 minutes or so. When the rice is al dente – the risotto should look creamy but the rice still have a little bite – stir in most of the grated parmesan and the rest of the butter. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste (I sometimes add a grating of nutmeg too), and serve scattered with the basil and the last of the parmesan.

I served it with a salad of wild rocket and little gem, with a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil.

Other risotto recipes on the blog include Leek, Pea and Ham Risotto and Squash Risotto.

Italian lamb stew

Italian Lamb Stew

I had every intention of cooking Osso Bucco Milanese this weekend, but there was no veal to be had at the butcher, not even for ready money. So I went back to Claudia Roden and there found a recipe for Cutturiddi, a simple lamb stew from Basilicata in southern Italy, at the instep of Italy’s foot. Using the recipe as a springboard, I made this Italian lamb stew, keeping the meat in larger pieces (see this previous post about stews), adding a soffrito of celery, carrot, onion and garlic at the start, and cooking it in a slow oven rather than on the stove. I used lamb neck, which the helpful butcher at the Quality Chop House shop recommended as being less fatty than shoulder and his preferred choice for a lamb stew.  It was very straightforward to make and the lighter sauce of vegetables, tomatoes and white wine produced a more spring-like stew compared to the dark, intense daube we made recently.

Italian Lamb StewI served it with some excellent purple sprouting broccoli from the Bloomsbury Farmers Market and brown basmati rice, which may not be authentically Italian, but worked well with the stew. To start we had a fresh, zingy salad of shaved fennel and blood oranges, and followed it with cheese (Caerphilly and goat’s cheese from Neal’s Yard) and Simon Hopkinson’s rich, silky chocolate pots. Serves 6.

1kg neck of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
1 onion
4 stems celery
6 medium carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 tin tomatoes
sprig rosemary
a good pinch of hot chilli powder
2 bay leaves
200 ml dry white wine

Cut the neck into large pieces (about 5cm square). Peel the carrots and cut into four lengthwise, then into dice. Dice the onion and celery and chop the garlic finely. Heat the oven to 150 C/Gas 2. Put the flour in a shallow dish, season with salt and pepper and turn the pieces of lamb in it. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole and brown the meat on all sides over a fairly high heat. You will need to do this in at least two batches, putting the meat aside on a plate as it is ready.

Soffrito for Italian lamb stewIf necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pan and tip in the prepared onion, carrot and celery. Turn down the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for another few minutes until the aromas start to rise from the pan. Put in the bay leaves, rosemary and  the tin of tomatoes, crushing them and mixing them into the soffrito, plus the chilli powder. I only had mild chilli powder and should have added a bit more than I did as you couldn’t really taste it, so do vary according to what kind of chilli you have and how much heat you like. Put the meat back into the sauce and add the white wine. You may need to  add either a little more wine or top up with some water (as I did) so that the liquid just covers the meat. Bring to a simmer and cook in the oven for 1½ hours. I cooked the stew a few hours ahead, and reheated it when we were ready to sit down for dinner. As both the starter and dessert could be prepared ahead, only the rice and purple sprouting broccoli needed attention  at the last minute, leaving me free to enjoy a glass of wine with our guests before dinner.

Smoked mackerel kedgeree

This came about because I was looking for a quick, comforting supper and found I had a few smoked mackerel fillets and a portion of cooked rice in the fridge. I am now planning to cook it again from scratch – it was so easy to make, cheaper than using smoked haddock (which I normally use for kedgeree), and mackerel is one of those fish we’re all urged to eat more often as oily fish is so good for you. I often have cooked rice to be eaten up (note these important guidelines on serving rice safely), but even if you are cooking the rice from scratch you can have this on the table within half an hour.

Smoked mackerel kedgereeI normally include a hard-boiled egg in kedgeree, and I think it would be good here too, but as you can see, I didn’t get around to it this time. Well, it was cold, I was hungry, what can I say? And, yes, that is kale mixed in – most unorthodox, but I didn’t have any parsley and thought that some additional greens would be good – and they were! I also sometimes include peas, so take your pick as to which greens you fancy (or have to hand). Quantities are for one, but you know your own appetite better than me, so do adjust accordingly.

1 small onion or 3 spring onions
knob of butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 egg
150g cooked basmati rice (but see below)
2 boneless fillets of smoked mackerel (about 100g)
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 lemon
2 tbsps cream
60g frozen peas (optional)
handful of parsley or kale

If you’re starting from scratch use 60g of white or 75g of wholegrain basmati, and put that on first – instructions on cooking rice here. Wholegrain rice tastes great in this recipe but will take about 10 minutes longer too cook.

Roughly chop the onion(s), heat the butter in a medium frying pan, and cook the onion gently until it is soft but not browned, adding the turmeric after a few minutes. Heat a small pan of water, prick the bottom of the egg, and boil it gently for 8 minutes (which should give you a just set yolk).

Take off any skin from the smoked mackerel fillets, check for bones and flake into fork-sized pieces. When the onion is cooked stir in the rice, with a little more butter if necessary, and add the smoked mackerel and garam masala (you could use mild curry powder instead, in which case add it to the onions with the turmeric). Cut a small wedge of lemon and put it aside. Squeeze the rest of the lemon over the pan. Season to taste with coarsely-ground black pepper and cook until the rice is piping hot. If using peas or kale, cook them for 3-4 minutes until tender in boiling water (or you can steam the kale in a steamer over the egg) before stirring into the pan too.

When the egg is ready, run under cold water, shell it and cut into quarters. Chop the parsley. Once the kedgeree is hot, stir in the cream (I used double cream, but single or crème fraîche would be just fine), spoon onto your plate, and top with the egg and parsley. Serve with the wedge of lemon to squeeze over.

I had a bowl of orange segments afterwards, which were refreshing after the rich taste of the mackerel. A couple of years ago I went on a knife-skills course and one of the most useful things I learned was how to segment an orange properly, with no trace of pith or pips – very satisfying.

Leek, pea and ham risotto

Leek, pea and ham risottoThe first cookery blog I started reading regularly was the Single Gourmet and Traveller, having met its author at a party given by a mutual friend. I quickly became hooked on her regular posts, which often provide inspiration for solo dinners, as well as feeding my love of Venice and Amsterdam, cities she often visits and writes about.

While I have since signed up for other food blogs, like Deb Perelman’s ebullient Smitten Kitchen and the healthy and beautifully photographed recipes on Green Kitchen Stories, it is Single Gourmet and Traveller I come back to most often. I, too, am often cooking for myself, and want recipes that can be prepared without too much fuss.

All of which is by way of preamble to this recipe for risotto for one which I made for lunch today. A bright morning had turned wet and stormy, so I no longer fancied Nigella’s Pea, Mint and Avocado Salad that I had vaguely planned. Something more comforting was called for. A survey of the fridge produced a leek that definitely needed eating, half a carton of chicken stock, a small piece of hand-carved ham and some peas and beans left over from lunch yesterday, so I thought I would try to transform them into a risotto.

1 leek, trimmed and sliced
a good knob of butter and a little oil
60g risotto rice (or up to 75g if you’re hungry)
a splash of vermouth (1 tbsp approx; optional)
200ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
60g peas and/or green beans
60g ham
15g parmesan, finely grated
6 basil leaves

The quantities above should be regarded as approximate – as I have already confessed, this risotto was designed to use up leftovers, and you could easily substitute onion or shallot for the leek, make it with frozen peas, or use whatever type of ham you have (see below if you have prosciutto to hand). If you don’t have any stock, and you have time, you could make this Vegetable stock, from Single Gourmet and Traveller, which sounds delicious and quite easy to make.

Leek, pea and ham risottoLeek, pea and ham risotto

I warmed a good knob of butter and a little olive oil in a saucepan and cooked the sliced leek until it was beginning to soften.  Meanwhile, I put the chicken stock to heat in a separate pan. Then I tipped the rice in with the leeks and stirred to coat the grains with butter before adding a good splash of vermouth (I like Noilly Prat), which I think gives the risotto a lovely herby flavour. You could use some dry white wine or just leave it out. I let that bubble up for a minute or two, stirring well, and then began to add the hot stock a ladleful at the time, stirring all the time.

My peas and beans were already cooked, but if you’re using fresh ones, chop the beans into 2 cm pieces, and cook both veg in boiling water until they are nearly done, putting the beans in first for 2 minutes and then adding the frozen peas and cooking for another 2 minutes. It would be just as nice using only peas if that’s what you’ve got. They will finish cooking in the risotto. Drain in a colander and refresh briefly under cold water.

When the rice was starting to soften I added the peas and beans to the pan, before adding the last of the stock and stirring to amalgamate it all. Finally, when the rice was almost ready, I added the ham and some torn leaves of basil, letting it cook for just a few minutes more until the rice was al dente and the ham warmed through. I mixed in half the grated parmesan and another nut of butter to stop it cooking, checked the seasoning and served with the rest of the parmesan sprinkled over.

A really satisfying and tasty lunch from a slightly random selection of ingredients – and nice enough for me to make again from scratch. Having gone back to Single Gourmet and Traveller, I realise that this recipe is not far away from her Leek Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, posted on the blog last November and probably lurking in the back of my mind, which was probably why a risotto suggested itself when I found leeks, stock and ham in the fridge!

Rice, carrot, spinach and cashews

Rice carrots, spinach and cashewsA soothing lunch dish – a recipe by Nigel Slater, with the addition of spinach, which I used as I didn’t have any of the coriander specified in the original recipe and wanted to have some greens. I wasn’t convinced about the nigella seeds, and may omit them next time round. Quantities are for two middle-aged women – I’ve kept the original quantities of veg, but with less rice (and therefore less stock). Nigel’s recipe gives 100g rice per person – you might want to put the quantity of rice and stock back up again if cooking for hungry men or teenagers.
2 medium carrots, scrubbed or peeled and finely diced
2 spring onions, chopped
2 good handfuls of spinach (approx 80g)
3 cloves
1 tsp ground coriander
100g brown basmati rice
Butter & oil for cooking
250ml vegetable (or chicken) stock
50g cashews, toasted in a dry frying pan
2 tsp nigella seeds, if liked
1 tsp garam masala

Heat a nut of butter and a little oil in a frying pan or shallow saucepan (one with a lid) and add the spring onion and carrots. Let them colour lightly, then add the cloves, coriander and rice. Stir, add the stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt, cover and turn down to a simmer.

Cook for about 20-25 mins (Nigel says 15-20 mins, but I found the brown basmati took a bit longer) until the rice is nearly done. Add the spinach to the pan on top of the rice, turn off the heat, put back the lid and leave to steam for 10 minutes. Fold in the wilted spinach. Add a slice of butter, the toasted cashews, nigella seeds (if using) and garam masala and fork through.

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng IMG_4512

This is Irene’s recipe for Indonesian Fried Rice, learnt from her mother, who grew up in the Dutch East Indies. In Indonesia it was eaten for breakfast, but it is great comfort food at any time of day. Apparently, the Dutch started using bacon to provide fat to fry the onions after the war when it was hard to get oil. In colonial days pork was more regularly eaten in Indonesia, which is no longer the case, as it is now a more strictly Muslim country. Nasi Goreng turns leftover rice into a delicious new meal, and is an economical way to feed a crowd. We recently served it for brunch with Begedel Djagung (sweetcorn patties), crunchy Thai Cashew Salad and steamed tenderstem broccoli and sugar snaps – a great success.

Nasi Goreng can largely be  prepared in advance, making it very convenient for entertaining. To turn it into a more substantial meal you can add prawns, shredded omelette, or cooked chicken or pork to it, or serve it with Tomato and Prawn Curry or Babi Ketjap (pork with sweet soy sauce). If you haven’t got any leftover rice, cook the basmati rice in advance (see How to Cook Perfect Rice). These quantities are for 3 to 4 (depending on what you’re serving it with).

120g smoked bacon lardons or pancetta
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 ‘thumbs’ of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
scant ¼ tsp ground cumin
rounded ½ tsp ground coriander
Knife point of fish paste
½ tsp Sambal Badjak Extra Heet (optional)
1 egg
salt and pepper
240g basmati rice, cooked

Optional toppings:
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 cm cumcumber diced or chopped into logs
thin omelette, made from 1 egg, rolled and sliced
cooked and shredded chicken or pork

Heat a large frying pan (preferably non-stick) over fairly high heat (7 on my cooker). When pan is hot add the bacon, turn heat down to 6 and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is starting to colour and any moisture has evaporated. Meanwhile prepare the garlic (here I’ve used this handy little dish with sharp ridges which quickly reduce the garlic to a paste), chilli and ginger.
Add the chopped onion, turn the heat down a bit more (to 5 or 4) and let it cook slowly, stirring from time to time, until the onion is soft and golden – about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, chilli, fish paste, cumin and coriander, and cook gently for about 5 minutes – it is important that these ingredients are cooked properly before you go on to the next step. If using, add the Sambal Badjak at this stage – it is not essential, but adds a deeper chilli note and a bit of colour. Break the egg into the pan and stir it in, as if you were scrambling it, so that you get strands of cooked white and cooked yolk through the mixture. Season with salt and pepper. You can prepare this in advance and set it aside at this point.


When you are ready to eat, heat the bacon mixture over medium heat, add the cooked rice, stir together thoroughly and garnish with chopped spring onion and other toppings as required.




Today we served the nasi goreng for lunch with Tomato and Prawn Curry, sugar snaps, and a garnish of chopped cucumber and a bit of coriander (though the latter is most unorthodox, I’m told).