Friday, 27 May 2011

Seasonal delights - Asparagus

The UK asparagus season is short and in my opinion this is not necessarily a bad thing. We seem to be forgetting what is best to eat at particular times of the year and asparagus is a perfect example of the joys of seasonality. It seems all the more delicious as its earthy charms are so fleeting in my food year. Children can learn a little more about seasonality and spring is a lovely time to introduce them to new things. To my mind giving your family a beautiful dish such as asparagus risotto seems quite normal but to others rediculously extravagant. However, it costs around £1.40 per person to make and that makes this dish not only delicious but good value for families too.

Asparagus Risotto

Serves 4

12 asparagus spears (approx)
150g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
500g risotto rice, carnaroli is best but arborio is fine, and cheaper
100ml dry white wine
100g grated parmesan

For the stock

1 carrot , cleaned and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 litres of water

1) First make the stock by chopping off the woody stems of the asparagus. Then place all the stock ingredients in a large pan and simmer for an hour.
2) Give the asparagus spears a rinse under cold water then cut the tips off, blanch them in the stock for 2 minutes and set aside. Now slice up the remainder of the spears.
3) In a large pan melt half of the butter and then add the onion. this needs to be cooked for about 5 minutes but with no colour. Then add the sliced spears and cook for a couple of minutes longer.
4) Now add the rice and let it get coated with the butter, onions and asparagus for a minute. Add the wine and let it evaporate.
5) Now add the stock 2 ladles at a time until it has almost evaporated and so on. You have to use some judgement here as you may need all the stock or you may not but the best thing is to ensure it is not too sloppy as you now need to add more butter and parmesan to finish the dish. Turn the heat off as parmesan , or any cheese for that matter, does not taste good when boiled.
6) Season as you wish, spoon the risotto into 4 large bowls. Decorate with the reserved asparagus tips and serve with a little more grated parmesan.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Simple pleasures - Focaccia

My Blog title originated as a joke in my home as i do 99% of all the cooking, but it is how i genuinely feel about food. If you give someone a dish of something good you are telling them that you care about them. All food lovers and cooks should be bound by this motto.

Homemade focaccia bread
This will introduce your children to the joys (magic, even) of making bread. We went to Rome recently and made this sandwich for a picnic. The mozzarella was one of the best things i've ever eaten.  Nothing beats freshly baked bread and of course you can make a plain loaf but this focaccia, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt is fantastic. Kids love making bread and it’s a great opportunity to show them the simple pleasures of food.

500g strong white bread flour
300ml warm water (37 degrees)
1tbsp sugar
1tsp salt
7g sachet dried yeast
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
  1.  Place the water, sugar and yeast in a jug, stir and leave to stand some place warm for 10 minutes (it will start to react).
  2. In a large mixing bowl put the flour and salt together and make a well in the centre. Add the yeasty water and mix, initially with a wooden spoon, then with your hands. You should have a smooth dough with no cracks. Knead for 10 minutes.
  3.  Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film and put somewhere warm for an hour or so until it doubles in size.
  4.  Knock back the dough i.e. push the air out of it and then shape into 1 large or 2 small rectangles. Place on a greased baking sheet and, if you like, press indentations into the dough. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5.  Eat warm or leave to cool slightly, slice through the middle and fill with mozzarella cheese, sliced tomato and parma ham.