Part of our motivation to move out of London to the outskirts of Oxford was to get a bit more space and as people who work from home, to finally get the office into its own dedicated room. In London the dinning room was the office and the kitchen was an anti-social little box, with room for only one person at a time; the result was not much enthusiasm for cooking and too many take aways.
Move complete and a wonderfully social kitchen now available to play in my training as a chef has kicked in and I am glad to report my deep love of cooking is being rekindled. We’ve made a deal as a family: Spend the money we would have otherwise blown on takeaways on high quality fresh ingredients instead. In all honesty we don’t have cash to burn but it felt like the right thing to do as we try and unhook ourselves from a terrible habit. Oh, and I am trying to turn everyone just a little bit vegetarian (but only a little bit).
This year we’re making our first attempt at growing a bit of our own food, prompted by starter kits given to us as house warming gifts. Advice from people who know about these things has been, just remember to water it all well and much to our surprise our little pots of stuff are growing.
At the moment we have an abundance of home grown flat leaf parsley. One of my favourite soft herbs and one which I think serves just as well as a salad leaf.
I’ve recently discovered smoked extra virgin rapeseed oil made by Cotswold Gold which is essentially the smell of bacon in a bottle. Brushing a thick slice of sourdour with this wonderful oil before chargrilling, quite heavily, results in a wonderfully rich bruschetta base. For the topping, just a few halved ripe cherry tomatoes and a very generous handful of flat parsley leaves.
On this occasion I also made a warm vinaigrette to go over the top. Warm up some olive oil, throw in some thyme, a couple of cloves of garlic, a slug of soy sauce, a dash of balsamic vinegar and a good few handfuls of fresh tomatoes chopped up roughly. Simmer for a few minutes, until the tomatoes go soft, blitz with a hand blender and pass through a sieve. Passing it through the sieve is optional.
We also had some marinated anchovies which really did make the whole thing a bit too vinegary for my liking. You could also throw in some mozzarella or maybe some shavings of parmesan. Olives too I suppose. Really though, just the sourdour (and the all important smoked oil), tomatoes and parsley with the dressing make for a deliciously light lunch.
I cook risotto all the time and yesterday, armed with saffron, I’d opted to make a simple milanese version with some fresh local asparagus and gremolata (yup, we really do have a lot of parsley to use up!). I accidentally picked up some basmati rice from the The Real Basmati Rice Co.. It was nestled between two types of risotto rice and I think I must have been distracted by the gorgeous packaging and the woman in the shop’s enthusiasm on seeing my choice.
On discovering my error, I decided to follow the same method I always use for risotto. Decent slug of olive oil, throw in a few chopped shallots (ok, I lie, frozen chopped onions) gently sweat until they go clear, add the rice and stir around for a bit until it starts to go clear. Pour a little boiling water over the saffron leave to soak for a few minutes and then and pour that into the rice. Stir over a gentle heat adding stock a bit at a time. On this occasion, having been too lazy to make my own, I was using pre-made Truefoods Golden Chicken Stock.
The result wasn’t risotto at all, of course, not squidgy in that risotto way. I purposefully didn’t let all the stock absorb/evaporate, so there was plenty of moisture, like a very light gravy. It was incredibly tasty whilst being very light, clean and refreshing. I’ve no doubt that this was all helped along enormously by The Real Basmati Rice Company’s excellent rice and the refreshing zing of Gremolata. When I make it again, which will be very soon, I am likely to throw in a dollop of mascarpone at the end just to give a hint of risotto creaminess.
(Woodstock, May 2014)