Porcini Risotto, Parmesan Crisps and Poor Man’s Caviar.

Porcini Risotto

There’s a global recession on people! Well, except in the US, Canada, and the BRIC countries. They’re just experiencing moderate growth.

But in Europe, there’s a recession on everyone! The UK is showing weak growth but….oh forget it.

Whatever the situation, ‘austerity’ is the current buzz word and to be honest, prior to a few  years ago I wasn’t really aware of the concept, other than as an adjective for the sort of person I generally tried to avoid at parties.

For some this is an inevitable consequence of genuine hardship, for others (and maybe I’m being a little cynical here) the latest trend, dare I say. But either way I think it’s having a cooling effect and in terms of food it’s opened up new avenues. And this is a food website after all.

People are baking again, cheaper cuts of meat – the best cuts in my opinion – are popular once more and in this country I think concepts of provenance and ‘proper’ cooking are now desirable. May I also refer you to my previous rant on chips. Good.

So tonight, ladies and gentlemen it’s caviar, only it’s the far more austere lumpfish caviar. Retailing at the more sensible price of around £40/kilo, it’s less than half the price of salmon caviar, and some 100 times less than the dangerously scarce Beluga caviar (which I have sampled and I can confirm is delicious). Still pricy of course, but then a little goes a long way.

As you may have guessed by the title I made it to accompany a porcini mushroom risotto and because, I like the texture, some parmesan crisps. It all worked nicely with a little scoop of ricotta that I had in the fridge.

If each serving was more than a £1.50, I’d be surprised. I’m keeping the belt tightened over here….

Serves two:

  • 160g good risotto rice
  • 100g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 small celery sticks, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 glass white vermouth
  • 700ml vegetable stock
  • 100g parmesan (with extra to serve)
  • Dried oregano
  • 2 heaped tsp lumpfish caviar
  • 2 tbsp ricotto cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives to serve

Start by soaking the mushrooms in the hot stock for 30 mins prior to cooking. Once ready, remove them and squeeze some of the liquid out with a sieve. Set aside until later.

In a heavy pan, fry off the shallots, celery and garlic until soft. Stir in the rice and butter and coat well. Add the vermouth and stir well (some of the rice starch will start to come out – this is good). Heat the stock back up in a small pan and leave on a low heat to keep hot.

Using a ladle, add a little stock and stir well until it’s nearly gone, then add another. Keeping ladling and stirring until all the rice is cooked but retains a bit of a ‘bite’. Soggy risotto is bad risotto. Towards the end add the parmesan and mushrooms. Taste and season. There should be a creamy sauce in the risotto, it shouldn’t be dry. Add a little water and a bit more seasoning if it is.

Risotto cooking

Meanwhile, make the parmesan crisps my forming mounds of grated grated parmesan with the oregano and black pepper. Grill until browned and flat. Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly. They should be nice and crisp.

Parmesan crisps

Serve the risotto in bowls with the crisps, chopped chives. Spoon on a tbsp of ricotta and a heaped tsp lumpfish caviar per person. Dust with a little more cheese and black pepper.

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Italian Style Chickpea Cakes

Chickpea cake

When, I explain I like to cook to people, a common reply is “I would, but I don’t have time”, which is nonsense of course. I have no quibble with anyone whatsoever for not enjoying cooking, or even turning to convenience food, each to their own and all that. But, I believe that if you have the time to heat a packet or jar of something, you’ll have time to make a meal.

Take, for example, some fresh pasta, prawns, frozen peas, garlic and a little chilli and I’ll bet you could have a great pasta dish in ten minutes. A frozen pizza takes longer.

Tonight was a little like this, I was a little late in, but having been out for dinner on Wednesday and Thursday, we couldn’t make it a hat trick. Could we? No, no we couldn’t…

And so the cogs clunked and whirred. I didn’t want anything too unhealthy and I’m trying to keep the meat content down for a while. For me personally, there is nothing better for going meat free than Italian food.

This was kind of inspired by falafel, but with Italian flavours in the form of ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and basil oil. With it, some spinach and simple sautéed mushrooms. Simple and on the table in about 15 minutes.

My only reservation? The chickpea cake was a bit soft, but otherwise, the flavour was good. I think chickpeas cooked from dried work better and have a better texture.

  • 400g cooked chickpeas – canned for speed, dried are better.
  • 3 tbsp ricotta
  • 6 sun dried tomatoes, drained and dried of oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp grated pecorino cheese (or parmesan)
  • A lug of basil oil (or olive oil and some torn basil leaves)
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • A little polenta for dusting
  • Button mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • A couple of parsley sprigs
  • Butter (optional as ever..)
  • Spinach
  • Vegetable stock
  • Oil for frying

Blitz the chickpeas, cheeses, sun dried tomatoes, oil and seasoning in a processor (or just mash it with a fork).

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Shape into two burger shapes and dust in the polenta.

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Bring a small pan of vegetable stock (about 400ml) to the boil and put the spinach in. Turn off the heat and put the lid on. Meanwhile, in a heavy pan, fry the onions in the oil, and add the garlic. Fry for a few minutes more and stir in the butter and parsley. Turn the heat off, remove and keep warm.

Reheat the pan and add some more oil, fry the chickpea cakes for a few minutes on each side until the polenta crisps. Be careful not to break them – use a spatula!

Chickpea cakes frying

And relax…..its the weekend 😉

Pancakes two ways – savoury and sweet.

IMG_6411 There was a time long ago, when we had to go to the phone to use it, wireless meant ‘a radio’, Betamax was on the way out and Bluetooth would have presumably meant a trip to the dentist, when I used to eat “Crispy Pankcakes”.

I presume it was a UK thing, but they were basically folded and breaded pancakes that when cooked, by whatever means you choose, disguised a variety of fillings the temperature of molten magma. Now these weren’t haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination, think savoury pop tarts, only hotter, but as a child I seemed to remember quite liking these things.

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day of course, so this and the fact Findus (the original makers) has featured heavily in the news of late, lead me to the natural conclusion that I had to replicate these little pockets of lava.

I was late home tonight so I swung by the store on the way back and picked out ingredients for the filling I thought would be quickest to be frank. Spinach, ricotta, bacon and mushroom seemed to fit that profile and is invariably good. And so it was on…

These turned out a little bigger than I remember so I ended up making 4 and freezing two. If I could have gotten them, porcini mushrooms would have had much more flavour, but I couldn’t.

I had to make a sweet one too, I had my orders, and I went for chocolate sauce, banana and flaked almonds. This was a little easier!

For the pancakes:

  • 200g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 350ml semi-skimmed milk
  • pinch salt

For the filling:

  • 4 handfuls of spinach
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 90g smoked bacon lardon
  • 4 medium mushrooms sliced thinly
  • A little salt and chilli flakes
  • Oil
  • Garlic, finely chopped

To finish:

  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp of flour
  • panko breadcrumbs (or regular ones will do fine)
  • Oil

For the sweet version:

  • 2 pancakes (as above)
  • About 200ml chocolate sauce (I bought it in)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 handfuls of almonds to serve

To make the pancakes, simply mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding the liquids to the flour and whisking as you do to avoid lumps. Stir in a good pinch of salt

In a small pan, fry the pancakes in a little oil so as they are thin and about 23cm/9 inches across. Once done, leave to go cool, they will need to be.

To make the filling, blanch the spinach in a little water until wilted. Drain, cool and squeeze out as much water as you can.

Whilst cooling, fry the bacon in a little oil, the chilli flakes and garlic with the sliced mushrooms until any water released has dried up. Set aside to cool.

Chop the spinach and mix into the ricotta. Once the bacon/mushroom mixture is cooled, at that too. Taste and season if needed.

To make the pancakes, first beat an egg in a bowl decant half to a ramekin and mix with a tsp of flour to make a ‘glue’. Spoon about two tbsp of filling onto the middle of a pancake and brush the edge all the way round with the egg/flour glue. Fold it over carefully trying to expel any trapped air.

Crispy pancake filling

Brush it with the plain egg and coat well in the breadcrumbs all over.

Fry gently in a little oil on both sides and repeat with the others!

Crispy pancake frying

For the sweet pancakes, I simply heated the chocolate sauce with a mashed ripe banana. Spread on the warm pancake (I reheated it in a fresh pan but the microwave will so) and roll up, dust with coco powder and the flaked almonds.

Pancake with chocolate sauce, banana and almonds