It's hard to go wrong with food if you add an indecent amount of cheese and butter to it. Even cheese and butter are improved by the addition of cheese and butter. Notable exceptions to this theory may be ice cream, breakfast cereal, avocados and possibly bananas.And I don't care if people say cheese and seafood are not acceptable plate-fellows. I can name fish pie, lobster thermidor, butter and cheese on bread with a whole crab stuck on top as a few examples. The last one may be made up.This risotto is for summer, when the pangs for comfort food overpower the desire for light meals in the languorous warm evenings. Usually, rich and creamy dishes are reserved for the darkness of winter when all you want is to hole up with a book and candlelight. This version though, with it's sharp fennel, refreshing cucumber and peppery pinches of radish is surprisingly light.The seaweed in the stock and the scallops, caramelised and firm are more like a hot crab-shack summer lunch than a meal eaten wearing bearskins trousers and stoking the wood on the fire. The pickling isn't really pickling as such, more a quick souse in vinegar and a dash of honey and herbs, but it gives this dish the sharpness and crunch it needs against the comforting softness of the rice.I used vialone nano rice here, I prefer its bite, but feel free to use whatever risotto you have on hand. And if you don't like scallops, well, you could use prawns too. Seaweed is easy to get hold of online and in health food shops these days and is well worth keeping in stock. I often use it when cooking fish to give sauces or poaching liquid a little more of the hint of the ocean. It may seem like there are a few bonkers ingredients here, and quite a lot of other ones, but if you get it all prepped, it's a really easy dish that is pretty impressive and tastes delicious.Ingredients200g risotto rice such as vialone nano or carnaroli1 onion, finely sliced1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped850ml water, brought to the boil1tbsp dried seaweed flakes (optional)1 piece dried kombu2tbsp dried wakameA good dash of olive oil1tbsp yuzu dressing (or lemon juice)5-6 scallops per person and butter to cook them inA large pinch of Japanese pepperSalt to seasonA handful of chopped parsleyA bit more butter than you think is necessaryA handful of grated ParmesanFor the fennel salad topping1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced (keep the fronds for garnish)A few radishes, finely slicedA couple of baby cucumbers, thinly sliced1/2 grapefruit, flesh only, cubedSome more yuzuA few sprigs of dill4tbsp tarragon infused cider vinegar (you really should have some of this in your cupboard. It's the only vinegar to use for vinaigrette)A dash of olive oil1tbsp honeySalt and more Japanese pepperMethodMake the fennel salad first by combining the fennel, radish, cucumber and grapefruit in a large bowl and pour over the vinegar, honey, oil, yuzu, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.Put the seaweed in a large jug and fill with the 800ml of boiling water. Leave to steep for ten minutes.Season and sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rice and stir well until coated with oil and starting to ever so slightly toast.Add a ladleful of your hot, homemade sea water and stir until absorbed. Keep doing this until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy. Taste and season. Add the butter and cheese and stir in while vigorously shaking the pan. Throw in the parsley, pepper and yuzu, stir, add a little more stock to loosen if necessary (it should be fluid, not stiff and claggy). Put a lid on and set aside while you cook the scallops.Heat some butter (yes, more) in a sauté pan and cook the scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, on high heat on each side for about a minute.Divide the risotto between four bowls, top with the scallops and some of the fennel salad and fronds, pour over some of the pickling dressing and serve immediately with the remaining salad on the side.
"I quite like them" said Noah after he'd eaten half an arancini and left the rest on the kitchen bench, wandering off to then hole up in a corner with a book. Bee says she still thinks they're a strange idea (I mean, who wouldn't love a deep-fried rice ball? And Maya, whom I think perhaps ate too many strawberries before supper gingerly nibbled the corner off and then stared into space for a while, dreaming up her next, no doubt cheeky move.The past week has been bonkers, we are longing for some calm evenings in our life, that don't involve falling asleep face down in the soup.After sitting on a chair made of the hardest substance known to man in a howling ice gale at Crystal Palace's outdoor cinema, part of the annual Crystal Palace Festival, my bum is only just getting some feeling back into it. The film, Sideways, will now forever be associated with numbness in the bottom. And lack of any feeling in my fingers and toes. These are some of the problems I have to deal with in my life. It's difficult.Another part of the festival, and in a performance of true Englishness, the spoken word evening we went to was as if Totnes were on LSD. Accordions and typewriters accompanied whispered poetry in a baking hot room again on rocks for seats. The heat had made the room smell very human, like a poetry school changing-room.And in a modern tableau, at the festival itself, while the sun baked down on us, a nun, staring into her phone while walking along bumped into me. Perhaps she thought God would guide her. Perhaps he was on another call.Among all this, there has been good food, especially at one of my favourite restaurants, Alle Testiere from Venice doing a guest night at Polpetto in Soho. That was a real treat. Delicious seafood, spider crab, Venetian snacks and more all came to me in London. Sadly, we couldn't get a babysitter, so Bee stayed at home. Although she's not that keen on seafood, so it could have appeared to be a little convenient.And that reminded me that I've been meaning to make arancini for ages. Nothing to do with Venice, but I did eat little deep-fried breadcrumbed balls filled with stuff to start. So on Thursday, I busted the children out of after school club and brought them home to ignore me and my cooking. Although, I did catch Maya drinking the vinaigrette straight from the mixing jar. She loved that, at least.Ingredients300g risotto, approx550ml chicken or vegetable stock1 small onion, diced finely1 garlic clove, crushedOlive oilA large knob of butter, be generousParmesan to grate, salt to seasonPanko breadcrumbs for coating1 egg, beaten with a splash of water1 ball of mozarellaA tablespoon of beef ragu per ball (optional, you can just make cheese ones, but I like to make a batch and save it for tagliatelle during the week)Rapeseed oil for fryingMethodMake the risotto in the usual way, until it's creamy and unctuous but with a hint of bite.Shake the pan violently as you stir in a load of butter and cheese at the end then cover and leave for five minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning, risotto needs to be well seasoned.Spread the cooked rice out on a tray and leave it to cool quickly. Stir it around every now and then to help.When cool, take a small handful and put a nugget of cheese in the middle. Add a spoonful of the meat sauce if using and form a ball around the filling. Add a little more rice if you need to. I made the cheese ones into cone shapes after to differentiate them, but that's your choice.Dip each ball in beaten egg then roll in the breadcrumbs until really well covered. Dip and roll again, giving it a second coat if you feel it needs it.Heat a pan half full of the rapeseed oil or use a deep-fat fryer. Fry each ball until golden all over and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with a salad and whatever vinaigrette remains if Maya's been anywhere near it.
Another carb-free week goes by and I'm fine. I don't miss bread as much as I thought. Basmati rice though, is a little harder to give up, we had lunch at Lahore Karai in Tooting the other day and the children tucked into a big plate of it without loosening their belts.This week I've made a few dishes that are more springlike. A confit tuna Niçoise, a spring minestrone, smoked salmon with avocado and eggs, and a light spinach and apple soup among other things.Last night though, with a breaking boiler and the cold weather still biting, we fancied something cosy and comforting: risotto. Rice is out of the question, but I've been using buckwheat a lot recently. I used buckwheat flour to make the children galettes the other day for lunch and I also used it to make soba noodles to go in a prawn and tofu miso soup. In the past I've toasted it in a frying pan before cooking it, making kasha to serve with salmon steaks. So I used it in place of my favourite Vialone Nano rice to make this simple mushroom 'risotto'.IngredientsFor two150g buckwheat1 small onion, chopped1 clove of garlic, crushed1tbsp powdered, dried porcini mushrooms (you can make your own in a grinder)150g chestnut mushrooms, sliced400ml chicken or vegetable stock. I used homemade chicken stock.Olive oilSalt and pepper2tbsp butterGrated parmesanChopped parsley to serveMethodSauté the mushrooms in a little oil and set aside.Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the onion and buckwheat. Cook for a few minutes until the onion is translucent and the grains are beginning to toast a little.Add the garlic, mushroom powder, season a little and stir well.Add a ladleful of the stock to the pan and stir well. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the buckwheat absorb the liquid before adding the next. Keep on doing this until the stock is finished or the buckwheat is soft, but with a little bite.Add the cooked mushrooms and stir.Now for the 'mantecatura'. Add the butter and Parmesan and vigorously shake the pan while stirring with a wooden spoon. Put a lid on and leave to rest for a few minutes. Stir through some chopped parsley and serve with more Parmesan.
Wild garlic is in full flower in late April and May, so now is the time to get it. Mine grows in the garden, but it’s easy to find in churchyards, woods and fields. The flowers are edible and tasty, as well as looking really pretty on the plate. Its uses range from pesto to soups and, in this recipe, risotto. I like to use Carnaroli rice for its creaminess, but feel free to use other types. You could even substitute spelt for the rice, adjusting the liquid and cooking time as required.Serves: 4Preparation time: 10 minutesCooking time: 25 minutesIngredients1l vegetable stock, preferably homemadeOlive oil2 garlic cloves, finely chopped4 small shallots, finely slicedHalf a glass of white wine, better still, vermouth (optional)A large handful of wild garlic leaves and a good sprinkle of the flowers2 tbsp butter2 tbsp grated parmesanA dash of truffle oil if you’re feeling luxuriousSalt to season Method
- Heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it warm on the stove.
- In a deep, heavy bottomed pan sauté the garlic and shallots in a little olive oil until soft, then add the rice and a pinch of salt. Stir well and toast the rice for a minute.
- Add the vermouth if using and let it reduce right down. Add the stock a ladleful at a time, only adding another when the previous ladleful has been absorbed. Make sure you keep stirring the rice to release the starch for a creamy risotto.
- Halfway through, add half of the finely sliced wild garlic leaves and stir well.
- Finish adding the stock, then vigorously stir in the butter and Parmesan while shaking the pan.
- Stir in the remaining leaves, cover and rest for five minutes. Check the seasoning; add the garlic flowers and serve.