Thursday, 26 May 2011

Chorizo and Butterbean Soup

This is a real winner - quick, simple, cheap and tasty. Chorizo and butterbeans is a classic combination, the sweetish blandness of the butterbeans seems to accentuate the rich spiciness of the chorizo.

I usually make this soup for two but if you're cooking for more just add extra ingredients as required. To start, finely chop a red onion and soften it in olive oil. Add some chopped garlic, you can be generous with this, or not, depending on your preference for garlic. Put a couple of sprigs of thyme in if you have them. If you don't have thyme you could use bay 2 or 3 bay leaves, oregano would be nice as well.

When the onions and garlic have softened and have started to give off that wonderful aroma that cooking onions always do turn up the heat and add some chopped chorizo. There's no need to be shy here, if you like chorizo put plenty in. The better the chorizo the better the taste of the soup, so use as good as you can get.

When the red oil is coming out of the chorizo add a tin of drained butterbeans, if cooking for two, and pour on enough boiling water to cover the beans. A bit extra won't hurt, but make sure you use enough water or there won't be a lot of liquid to your soup. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Before serving add a good amount of fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon, then season and serve.

It's something I cook again and again because its easy and very tasty. You can use it as the basis for some other dishes as well. You could use chick peas instead of butterbeans and add some squid for something a bit fancier. Or some chicken for a more filling soup. Merguez sausages could be used instead of chorizo and you could pep things up with a dollop of harissa and a stir of sour cream. Mmm, I'm going to have to get hold of some merguez sausages and give that a go myself.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bolla e squittiscono (Bubble and squeak)

I have no idea whether the translation in the title is accurate or not, but a couple of online translations suggested 'Bolla e squittiscono' as a translation for 'bubble and squeak'. And even if it isn't right, I like it.

This isn't a dish of fried sunday lunch leftovers, it's done with fresh ingredients - potatoes, dried pasta, greens, herbs and cheese. Just reading what's in it you know it's going to taste good, even if pasta and potatoes together seems odd at first.

Cooking it couldn't be simpler because you'll only need one pot.

Peel and slice some potatoes, enough for the number of people you're cooking for. Then get everything into a pan of boiling water. Our favourite version so far used potatoes and pasta (fusilli) with spring greens, frozen peas and frozen broad beans.

Once everything is cooked, drain it and get a serving dish. Put a layer of the mixture into the serving dish then scatter over some cheese. The original recipe calls for Fontina, but we haven't managed to get any of that so we used cheddar when we first made the dish. Second time around we used ricotta which was delicious. Anyway, a layer of the boiled mixture gets scattered with cheese, some salt and pepper, fresh or dried herbs (sage is good, or mixed italian herbs) and some olive oil. A grate of nutmeg adds a nice flavour as well.

Keep layering as above and then cover with grated parmesan (if using) at the end. You could pop it under the grill now to get the parmesan melted and browned slightly.

It might not sound much, but this is a very tasty and satisfying dish, so much so that's its worth making more than you think you might need.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Prawn and Broad Bean Risotto

Risotto is not a hard dish to do. All you need is the right rice, Arborio or Carnaroli, some decent stock (make your own, buy fresh or use a cube) and something to go in it, like some prawns and broad beans. Or chicken and herbs, fresh vegetables perhaps, crabmeat and roasted squash, whatever you fancy really. Here's a link to a post about one I did recently - risotto with braised celery. And if you're in the mood for something a bit different, try this - Italian bubble and squeak.

Most recipes start with finely chopped onion or shallot softened in butter or olive oil. However, on Saturday Kitchen at the weekend Antonio Carluccio was in Italy with the 'King of Risotto' and the King didn't use onion or shallot. So if you haven't got either, don't worry.

Another common feature of risotto recipes is a glass of dry white wine or vermouth. Again, good for flavour but not vital and not having any wine to hand shouldn't stop you from cooking risotto.

The most important thing is technique. You need two pans, one for the rice and one for the stock. Get the stock simmering on the hob so that you always add warm liquid to the cooking rice. To start, cook your rice for a minute or so in hot butter or olive oil - with or without onion/shallot/wine. When the rice starts to turn see-through at the edge start adding hot stock, one ladle at a time.

Stir the rice a few times every time you add stock and add another ladle of stock before the rice cooks dry. A good rule of thumb is to add it when you leave trails in the rice when you stir it. There's no need to stir constantly, if you do it'll take ages for the rice to cook.

Add the rest of your ingredients according to how long they take to cook but not before the rice has had about 10 minutes and is well on the way to looking like a risotto. If you're adding chicken cook it beforehand or just add it at the end fully cooked. Peas and other small veg can be warmed up in the hot stock. Herbs should go in right at the end to ensure they retain their flavour.

After about 20 minutes you should be ready. The risotto should be thick and saucy. Try a little - the rice should have a little bit of firmness in the middle, but only a little. If its at all chalky or dry add more stock (or warm water if you've run out) then stir and wait a couple more minutes, then try it again. The liquid should look glossy and creamy.

Before serving let the risotto stand for a couple of minutes off the heat and for a really good flavour add a good knob of butter, a generous scoop of mascarpone or a handful of grated parmesan. Check the seasoning.

With the basics taken care of (rice, stock, stir, rest) risotto really is easy. It's a great for veggies and meat eaters and works with pretty much all meat and fish. It can even be a sweet dish, like an Italian rice pudding, using fruit like blueberries or strawberries, fresh brambles or mulberries would be pretty good as well I reckon.