Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lemon and Pea Risotto

Source: die katrin {flickr}
You know what I love most about food, and about Italian food specifically? You can be a purist, and follow a recipe, and get a wonderful meal, or you can change and adapt, and add in what you like, and as long as you get the basics right, you'll still have a wonderful meal!

Pasta, risotto and pizza are all like this - there are recipes that you can follow that are traditional, and delicious, like the bucatini I made the other week, and then you can go out on a limb and try something different, with amazing results. The caveat to all this, is that you must start with good basics. The perfect pizza base, and fresh, simple ingredients, and you have a delicious pizza. Good quality pasta, and some roasted tomatoes, and you have a quick, easy and tasty dinner.

And after all my fears, risotto has turned out to be as satisfyingly flexible and wonderful. I've made it with chorizo and courgette, with roasted vegetables, with broccoli and blue cheese - there seems to be no end to the wonderful things you can add to the oozy, cheesy, wonderful goodness that is risotto. And if you're like I was, and you've been thinking, "rice? really? meh." remember that this isn't just common or garden rice, this is cheesy, textural, wonderful rice. A totally different bird, really.

Lemon and Pea Risotto
Serves 2 (easily doubled)

1 onion, finely diced
Olive oil
Small knob of butter
250g (1 cup) Arborio rice
125ml (1/2 cup) white wine
± 1l (4 cups) stock (I use NoMu lamb, because that's what I have at home, but chicken, or veg will be fine. Use a good quality stock, not from a cube - that stuff is full of preservatives and salt)
1 lemon, juice and rind
250g (1 cup) frozen peas
grated Parmesan, to taste
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

  1.  Fry the onion in a little oil and butter until soft and translucent - do not allow it to colour.
  2. In a separate pot, boil a litre of water, and add stock. Turn down to a simmer, and keep warm throughout the cooking process - add a little water if you think you'll run out.
  3. Add the rice to the pan, and toast in the oil and butter, making sure all is coated in oil, and it gets lightly toasted - a few minutes.
  4. Pour the wine into the rice, and allow to heat through, absorbing and evaporating the alcohol.
  5. When the wine has been absorbed, add the warm stock by the cup full, stirring to absorb between each addition. This should take 30-40 minutes.
  6. Using the small grater or a microplane, grate the rind from your lemon, and set aside, then juice it, being careful to extract the seeds.
  7. Add the rind and juice to the mostly cooked risotto, and add the frozen peas. Allow to stand with the heat off, while you grate the Parmesan.
  8. Add the Parmesan, stir to melt and mix, and allow to stand for a few minutes. 
  9. Add a knob of butter, stir, and serve.
This is fresh and light, a wonderful antidote to the exceedingly cold weather we've been having, but would be as good as a spring dish. The lemon keeps this bright and wonderful, and the peas give it a sweet touch. I also had some maple cured bacon on hand, which I fried up and chopped small, and added in at the end.

If you haven't tried risotto yet, do it! I was terrified, but now I'm making it once a week. It's neither difficult, nor onerous - give it a try!


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Friday, May 6, 2011

Bucatini All'Amatriciana

Source: Kevandy on flickr creative commons
Bucatini is one of those things that remind me of my honeymoon. On our last day in Rome, when we'd walked and walked for three days, until our feet were little worlds of pain, we sat down at a funny little fast food pasta shop right by Termini, the central train station, and just ate lunch while we waited for our train to the coast. I didn't know it then, but our bucatini was served with a traditional tomato sauce, with bacon, known as Bucatini All'Amatriciana, which is native to Amatrice near Rome, and to Rome itself. A quintessential Roman dish, if you like. What a brilliant choice!

So, when we were wandering around the Cheese Festival on the weekend, and I spotted bucatini on sale, I pounced on it like a diva on discounted Manolos! This was my chance, I thought, to recreate some of the wonderful food we had on holiday, and I was so happy! 

With all the cold weather we've been having, I thought a comforting pasta would be just the ticket, but I didn't want anything particularly fancy or complicated. I did a quick google search for what goes best with bucatini, and I realised that the way we had it in Rome, what the way it's traditionally served. Bingo! That sounded right to me - short prep and cook time, minimal fuss and ingredients, and maximum satisfaction!

Just a few ingredients, about 30 minutes cook time, and you can have a warm bowl of comforting pasta on the table. And it's so simple!

Source: Kevandy on flickr creative commons
Bucatini All'Amatriciana
Adapted from ItalianFood.com

250g dried bucatini (if you can't find bucatini, I think linguine would be a good substitute)
100-150g bacon, diced (you can use pancetta or guanciale, but I didn't have any)
1/2 onion, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, diced finely
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 cans whole Italian plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
Grated Parmesan to taste


  1. Put the pasta water on to boil, and when it boils, add salt and pasta. Cook according to packet instructions, until just before it's cooked. It will finish cooking in the sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a little olive oil, until cooked, but not crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel covered bowl, to be added back later.
  3. In the same pan, fry the onion, and add the garlic as it begins to get some colour.
  4. When the garlic is fragrant, add the paprika and chopped tomatoes and simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you prefer your pasta more saucy, add back some of the drained tomato water.
  5. When the pasta has cooked, drain it and add it to the tomato mixture in the pan. Stir to mix thoroughly, and heat through.
Serve with grated Parmesan, slurp it up and enjoy! The hollow bucatini grabs the sauce deliciously, and the sauce is beautifully simple. Because you use so few ingredients, make sure they are good quality.


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