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Hurry up and grow August 31, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 11:32 am
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Late last summer I planted asparagus seeds. This was a seriously long-term investment in our culinary future. Although the tiny seedlings popped up – perfect asparagus in miniature – within weeks, there won’t be any harvesting for another eighteen months. Until then they grow, achingly slowly, in our raised vegetable bed, taunting me with their tiny perfection. On the upside, once an asparagus bed gets going you can leave it in place for years and years (seven or perhaps twenty, depending which source you might believe). Once something is planted in the garden, no matter what stage of its development, I am reluctant to buy it elsewhere. Partly this is thriftiness (or stinginess, if that’s your angle), partly it’s about attempting to honour the principles of eating seasonally, and partly it’s about the satisfaction of making do with what one has to hand. Sometimes though, as with eggs, I cave in to desire.

Cheat’s Risotto

2 tablespoons of olive oil

50 grams of unsalted butter

2 shallots, finely chopped

330 grams of arborio rice (or other risotto rice, as you wish)

250 mls of white wine (I keep a 2 litre cask of dry white in the pantry for just such a thing)

1 litre of vegetable stock (I use 2 massel ultra stock cubes) hot

3 bunches of asparagus

1 cup of grated parmesan

zest & juice of a lemon (homegrown, slightly redemptive)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan/deep sided, wide frypan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until softened.

Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat the grains.

Add the wine and stir for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each to absorb before adding the next. Now there are two schools of thought on this process – stirring vs non-stirring with occasional swirling. If you stir, particularly if it’s vigorous, your end result will be a thicker texture. If you swirl occasionally the end result is a looser risotto. Entirely up to you.

Carry on until the rice is cooked but not too soft. This will take 20-30 minutes. It’s best if you don’t wander off during this time. Inattention can lead to a much gluggier result.

In the meantime, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Peel the stalks, leaving the tips intact. Chop into ~5cm segments.

Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes, until just tender. The tips will be bright green. Drain, then refresh in cold water. I have read a theory that putting the peelings into the water you’ll blanch the asparagus in gives an extra-asparagusy flavour. I tried this and just found it fiddly without an appreciable difference in flavour.

When the risotto is almost done, add the asparagus, parmesan, lemon zest and juice. Gently combine then season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes, then serve.

It’s hard to turn down a good risotto. Some are dreadful. I once worked in a pub where the name risotto was given to cooked rice fried up with chunks of whatever and peas (always with the peas) then sprinkled with parmesan. Fine to eat if you’re a house-sharing uni student, at the end of a feet-blistering shift, if you need a heavy dose of carbs and salt, and you can disguise its hideousness with the wine bottle rejects of the night. Not fine if you’re bothering to cook yourself a dinner you plan to enjoy.

This is worth the moderate amount of effort and attention. For extra carby-deliciousness, serve it up with chunks of fresh crusty bread slathered with real butter. Oh and a bit of white wine won’t go astray.


Temporary enchantment August 27, 2010

Filed under: Things that aren't sweet — titchandboofer @ 4:15 am
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I was bewitched by MasterChef, utterly sucked into the hype, drama and ‘suspense’, watching it, talking about it, texting constantly with one of the LMFs through every episode, trying out the recipes, reading about the contestants and their post-MC ‘journeys’ (I know, gag and puke, the word is ruined forever). Not to over-dramatise (well, much), but it was hard to imagine a post-MC world here. What the hell would we find to watch every night? Then it finished. And strangely I don’t miss it. I have rediscovered the glory of channel 2 and now it’s hard to imagine how MC had such a power over me. I hate reality television. The constant repetition, the breathless voice-overs, the urgency of every staged altercation between contestant and contest, the presenters, the supposedly subtle product placement (so subtle that entire articles have been dedicated to its artistry) and the puffed-up self importance of the whole shebang. Jeez, they’re poaching an egg, not splitting the atom. The only upside to MC, as opposed to some of the other gems that have graced our screens, is that the product can live on beyond the show. Everyone needs to eat. No one really needs to run around in hot pants with 75 litre backpacks, shrieking at their partner and abusing foreign taxi drivers. At least not daily. This recipe lives on for us on a regular basis:

Kylie Kwong’s only-slightly-tampered-with Eggplant with Chilli Sauce

3 large eggplants (never stint on eggplant, it’s lush)

5 tablespoons of peanut oil

1/2 a bunch of coriander, leaves, stems and roots all finely sliced

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 teaspoon of the sichuan pepper and salt

For the chilli sauce:

1/2 a cup of peanut oil

6 long red chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped (KK keeps the seeds in, which is fine if you want to blow your head off and drink a litre of milk)

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

8cm piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of tamari soy sauce

For the sichuan pepper and salt:

1 tablespoon of sichuan peppercorns (don’t stress too much on the sichuan, we just use ordinary peppercorns and they’re still excellent)

3 tablespoons of sea salt (rocks or flakes)

To do:

Halve the eggplants and cut into irregular 5cm chunks. Spread over a couple of baking trays and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Set aside for about an hour. Rinse well, drain and pat dry with paper towel. This process removes all the bitter juices from the eggplant. DO NOT SKIP THIS.

To prepare the pepper and salt, dry roast the peppercorns and salt flakes in a small pan until fragrant and the peppercorns are popping a little. Remove from the heat, cool, then grind up with a mortar and pestle. Set aside. You can keep the excess in an airtight container with your other herbs and spices.

To make the chilli sauce, heat the 1/2 cup of oil in your wok until shimmering slightly. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger, stirring constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir through the tamari.

Now for the eggplant: heat the 5 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok until shimmering slightly. Add the eggplant and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, until tender.

Add the chilli sauce to the eggplant and stir together for about a minute. Toss over the coriander and spring onions, stirring to combine.

Transfer to a serving bowl/plate and sprinkle with the pepper/salt combination. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. This amount makes about 4 generous serves. Good for dinner or lunch. Reheats well. Spicy without burning and salty without overwhelming. Soft eggplant contrasts with the crunch of ginger and coriander root. Yum.