Tag Archives: dinner

Beetroot risotto, feta, dill

Beetroot risotto

I’ve been having a real beetroot craving recently, which I indulged a few Saturdays ago on a morning mooch around Morison’s. I hadn’t really recognised it and was somewhat surprised when I left with some of the cheapest, most vinegary beetroot slices ever to have been created, but I have to admit that they were surprisingly good when devoured with fresh bread and coleslaw. It instantly took me back to a fond memory in which I’m eating a jar of sliced beetroot (it seems this is a guilty pleasure of mine) with hunks of French bread in a sunny Asda car park whilst on a cycling holiday a few years ago. It was as classy as it sounded.

Back in civilisation with a proper kitchen at my disposal, the sliced beetroot didn’t quite cut it and I was still craving that sweet, earthy, vegetable hit so I spent the next week thinking of recipes and flavour combinations, and eventually decided I’d make a risotto.

Raw fresh beetroot

I’ve been thinking about risotto recently and have realised that it’s a bit of a funny meal. Not funny in a ‘that sounds weird’ sort of way, but funny because everyone knows it’s dead easy to make, doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, and yet we’ve all cracked it out proudly when we’re having people round for dinner, and our guests don’t mind. If you were going to serve stir-fry at a dinner party you’d have to make it really special  (or is this just me being a massive food snob?) but risotto gets near universal approval for relatively minimal effort. Risotto has become one of my staple dishes; comfort food which is hard to dislike, versatile, and quick & easy to make. Or so I thought. A quick google of risotto reveals sites claiming that ‘easy risotto recipes aren’t as elusive as you think’, and even the Guardian declares that ‘it is very easy to get very wrong‘. I disagree. Yes there is a bit of stirring involved but this is one of the great joys of cooking; standing over a hob stirring a pan of steaming risotto is a total joy. And I can assure you that this was not hard to make.

I think the flavour combination was inspired by a gravadlax recipe I saw ages ago, and undoubtedly coriander seed would be a nice addition but wasn’t included here. The fantastic vibrant colour, the sweet earthy beetroot, the smooth rich crème fraîche, and fresh dill make for a fantastic pairing. I stole a bit of my housemates feta to crumble on top to add a bit of visual appeal and for a salty hit, but any a soft goats or blue cheese would work brilliantly too. Or a simple dollop of crème fraîche will bring this to life.

Is my penchant for stirring a risotto pan madness? Am I overly snobby about stir-fry? The answer to both is probably yes, but let me know…

Beetroot risotto cooking

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

20g butter

1 red onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

200g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)

2 raw beetroots, peeled and grated

Small glass of Vermouth

750ml stock (I used a bit of both vegetable and chicken)

Juice of half a small lemon

Table spoon of Crème fraîche

Seasoning

To serve:

Fresh dill, chopped

Feta/Goats/Blue cheese, crumbled (optional)

Crème fraîche (optional)

 

Method

1.       Melt the butter in a heavy based pan on a medium heat, and when sizzling, add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until soft.

2.       Add the rice and stir to coat it in the butter. After a minute, add the Vermouth and beetroot.

3.       Cook for a few minutes until the Vermouth has been absorbed and the mixture looks a little dry. Then start to add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring all the while.

4.       Continue to stir until the stock is nearly all absorbed and aim to keep the rice looking sloppy at all times, before repeating the process numerous times.

5.       After 20-25 minutes, the rice will be cooked but test it regularly. When it’s cooked to your taste and looks good, turn down the heat.

6.       Add the lemon juice and crème fraîche and stir vigorously until well combined and looking smooth. Check the seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

7.       Serve immediately, scattering the dill on top and dressing with any cheese/crème fraîche as appropriate.

beetroot risotto with feta and dillBeetroot risotto

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Lamb Meatballs, Walnuts, Burnt Aubergine

You should know dear reader, that recently I’ve not had as had as much time as I would have liked in the kitchen. This should of course be met with exorbitant levels of sympathy. I can imagine the tears and hysteria now as you cry “poor fodderblogger – he must be so overworked” as you desperately search for my employers details to reprimand them for working me so hard. Not happening? Oh ok – fine, it’s probably for the best… Anyway. Not having a lot of time, I’ve found myself in a bit of food rut. I’ve been finding myself starving hungry and with little time to cook so I’ve been throwing things together pretty quickly. This has meant I’ve been relying upon my tried (or should that be tired?) and tested meals, the quick and easy staples upon which I can rely for a solid meal, but without the va-va-voom.

Time wasn’t about to present itself to me, so I was going to have to evolve like a Darwinian finch, and that’s exactly what this recipe is all about.  It’s a game changer. You can throw it together easily straight after work, and it doesn’t involve loads of waiting for things to cook. It’s one of those rare meals that when one part is done, it’s time to do the next and you won’t have to juggle five things at once. Minimal stress is required, it’s comforting like a big hug from a buxom madam, and most importantly it’s delicious. Put simply, it’s the perfect mid-week meal.

Now I’m not going to go all Jamie Oliver on you and claim you can make this in 15 minutes flat without setting the house on fire or losing a limb, but if you’re cooking tonight you could do much worse than this as a quick and easy meal. The zingy meatballs are guaranteed to hit the spot, and the sweet, smoky aubergine accompaniment, along with the rich crunch of the toasted walnuts means this dish doesn’t compromise on flavour and won’t tie you to the oven all evening.

Ingredients

500g lamb mince

Zest of half a large lemon

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

10 large mint leaves (small handful), finely shredded

100ml vegetable stock

 

2 good sized aubergines

Juice of half to two-thirds of a lemon (adjusted to taste)

2 Tablespoons of tahini

2 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses.

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Loaded teaspoon of cumin seeds

Handful of walnuts, toasted

Seasoning

Method

1. Combine the lamb mince, lemon zest, garlic and mint leaves in a big bowl, mix thoroughly and season generously. Once well mixed, roll the mixture into small, ping-pong sized balls in your palms (it should make about 16) and brown these in a little oil in a pan.

2. Once nicely browned all over, place the meatballs in a small over proof dish with a lid, and add around the vegetable stock. Ideally most of the meatballs will be sat in the stock but don’t worry too much. Put the meatballs in an oven preheated to 190°C with the lid on and cook for 25 minutes.

3. While these are cooking, make the burnt aubergine. Take the aubergine and place it directly on a moderate flame. Keep turning it regularly until the flesh feels soft and the skin is all blackened. This should take 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as you’re doing this – you don’t want them to catch alight although it would certainly would add some excitement to meal time, helping you break out of that cooking rut…

4. Once done, chop lengthways through the aubergine and once it’s cooled a little, scoop the flesh out and put it in a sieve to drain for 15 minutes. Add a little salt as this helps draw out the liquid.

5. Meanwhile in a bowl, combine the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, tahini, and garlic and toasted cumin seeds. Once the aubergine has had it’s time, add it in and mix thoroughly. Taste and season as required.

Serve the meatballs and aubergine with couscous and scatter toasted walnut pieces over the top. Garnish with chopped herbs – I used a tiny bit of left over coriander but parsley would work too – or with pomegranate seeds for an opulent finish.

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My Big Fat Greek Dinner

I only know two Greek people and neither of them are big or fat which is hugely disappointing. This could soon change though; one of them (my friend’s girlfriend) is a relentless feeder and is determined to fatten everyone up she knows with copious amounts of delicious food swimming in olive oil. I’m totally cool with her feeding habits because Greek food is delicious. If I were Greek I would certainly be big and fat because I’d never stop eating.

Recently I found myself green with envy as the feeder invited her boyfriend to Greece to visit her family. Cue mass excitement amongst her many hundreds of aunts – immediately every single one of them was on a mission to feed her boyfriend their moussaka and all claimed to make the best one. Win an Olympic gold medal? Not fussed. Win the lottery? Meh. Be judged to be the Moussaka Queen? “YES YES YES THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN PUT ON THIS PLANET TO DO!” The quest for the ultimate moussaka is the holy grail to the feeder’s aunts and what a noble cause it is. What could possibly beat this wonderful dish served with a classic Greek salad? Soft rich lamb, subtle herbs and spices, a big tomato hit, aubergine which melts in the mouth all hiding under a soft creamy zingy coating.  Served with the salty freshness of a greek salad, frankly nothing can beat it. Sadly for the aunties slaving away in hot Athenian kitchens trying to perfect their recipe and win our admiration the recipe for the worlds best moussaka is no secret; in fact it’s right here….

My Big Fat Greek Moussaka

serves 4 big fat Greeks.

συστατικά (Ingredients)

600g minced lamb

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

3 chopped anchovies finely chopped

2 tins of peeled plum tomatoes

A big squeeze of tomato purée

2 medium sized aubergines sliced into 1/2 cm slices.

100ml red wine

Small handful of fresh mint finely chopped

1 generous tsp of dried oregano

1 tsp ground cinnamon

seasoning

350ml Greek/natural yogurt

1 egg, beaten

1/2 a nutmeg

zest of 1/2 a lemon

μέθοδος (Method)

1. Brown off the mince in a big pan and once done transfer to a big bowl.

2. Soften the onion and the garlic in the pan for a few minutes before the chopped anchovies adding the tomatoes and lamb. Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to break them up before adding the tomato purée. Reduce the liquid on a high heat.

3. Put the grill on high and after brushing the aubergine slices with olive oil grill them for a few minutes on each side until they change colour. It will probably be necessary to do this in batches. If you have the time and inclination you can cover them in salt to draw any excess water out before you cook them, and then wipe the salt and water off with kitchen paper – 3o minutes or so will be sufficient but it’s not essential.

4. Once the meat mixture is thickening up nicely, season generously and then add a good glug of wine, the fresh mint, oregano, cinnamon and continue reducing down. The cinnamon adds a lovely rich sweetness and enhances the lamb no end so don’t miss this out. While this continues reducing down, prepare the topping.

5. Mix the yoghurt, egg, lemon zest and nutmeg thoroughly before adding a good twist of black pepper. Once the sauce is thick and delicious, put the oven on to 190 and start assembling the moussaka.

6. In a large baking dish build up the moussaka by putting in alternating layers of lamb and aubergine, ensuring that you finish with a layer of aubergine. Spread the yoghurt mixture evenly over the top and bake uncovered in the oven for around 30 minutes until golden brown. Whilst your waiting throw together a simple but delicious Greek salad and you’ll be all set.

Classic Greek Salad

200g feta

3 large ripe tomatoes

1 cucumber

1 small/medium red onion

A handful of olives (mixed or black)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp of dried oregano

Black pepper

Quarter the tomatoes, and then cut each quarter into 4/5 bite sized chunks. Cut the cucumber into similar sized chunks and half the red onion before slicing it into thin ribbons. Combine all of these into a bowl, scatter on the olives, and break up the feta with your thumbs into irregular chunks before throwing this in too. It will have loads more character and the flavours will seem more balanced if you don’t chop the feta up evenly so get your hands in there. Dress the salad with a little extra virgin olive oil, mix gently, and then sprinkle on the oregano and add some freshly milled black pepper. Leave for 10 minutes to let the flavours combine.

Serve the moussaka with the salad and bread to mop up any juices. Serve big fat portions and then immediately take a bow and sit back to enjoy the show as Zeus rains down thunderbolts in recognition of the worlds best moussaka. The aunts are going to hate you, but your stomach certainly won’t.

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Cod, Pancetta, Minted Peas, Broadbeans

I know what you’re thinking. Minted peas and pancetta; this sounds a little like one of the more exciting episodes of Come Dine With Me where the ‘zany’ host gets ideas above their station and serves the meal accompanied by a soprano they’ve drafted in for the evening… What next, scallops and black pudding? Eton Mess? But no, trust me, persevere as this is super easy, looks great, and tastes amazing.

The inspiration for this came in the way that many of my recipes start; through me buying a huge amount of something very cheap. I don’t know what it is, but I’m hardwired to love a bargain. Sometimes I know what I’m buying is a little ridiculous, but I can’t help myself. I just have to buy it and Saturday was one of those times. Ambling around Borough Market in the afternoon sun I found a huge block of pancetta for a fiver. Putty in their hands, I snapped it up and went straight home to start cooking…

Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 big handfuls of frozen peas.

1 big dollop of crème fraîche

Small handful of chopped mint leaves

Small handful of pancetta (streaky bacon)

2 handfuls of podded broad beans.

2 Cod Fillets (with or without skin)

Small knob of butter

Seasoning

I boiled up some peas for a few minutes until they were tender but still bright green (overcooking peas until they shrivel up and die is a crime) and roughly mashed them up with a fork. I added a bit of crème fraîche to bind my pea mixture slightly, and some fresh chopped mint and plenty of seasoning. This was to be the bed for the cod fillet and so I set it aside until the end.

My pancetta was a huge block so I spent a while slicing up the pancetta as thin as I could practically manage with a chefs knife, knowing that it wasn’t going to crisp up if it wasn’t really thin. Armed with my pancetta slices, I diced these up into pieces and dry fried them to release their delicious salty-savoury flavour. Once they were crisp and pretty much ready, I threw in a small bowlful of podded broad beans and heated them through.

In yet another pan (3 pans? This is posh) I heated a splash of olive oil and added the cod loin, seasoned generously on both sides, to cook for about 4 minutes. At this point it was golden brown so I flipped it over and added a small knob of butter before cooking the other side for a further 3 minutes.

To assemble the dish I made a bed of the minted peas, on top of which went the delicately placed cod fillet the broad bean and pancetta mix scattered around the edge. The soft sweet peas and gentle bite of the broad beans were a wonderful contrast to the crispy salty pancetta, and the cod flaked up into large quivering flakes which almost melted in the mouth. Voila,  a meal fit for the 4 strangers that you don’t like but invited round in the vain hope of winning the cash prize at the end of the week. My word of advice to try to resist the temptation to go overboard on the pancetta like I did – you’re guests will almost certainly mark you down for it…

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