Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Ever since my Mum told me that the photos I used in one of my early posts looked like shots from the kitchen of a struggling single mother (she had a point) I have been very aware of my rudimentary photography skills. I have countless blurry photos of food saved up in my camera compared with about five pictures of actual people.

Despite all this practice (including a one day photography course) my photos have not improved. Frequently my own shadow appears on the rim of the plate. I often try to introduce other objects (wine, pot plant, napkin) to distract from how rubbish the picture is. Steam is my nemesis. On telly it wafts appetisingly from plates of steaming soup but I find it just fogs up my camera creating the afore-mentioned blurry sheen.

So, that all said, I wasn’t going to post this risotto at all because even in real life it looked a bit like porridge. Creamy white risotto with white scallops on top served in a white dish offered very little in the way of visual excitement. Short of gathering all my kitchen utensils in the background of the photo I didn’t see how I could make this work artistically.

Trying to distract you with a poinsettia. Festive.


The completed dish tasted too good not to post though so I just zoomed in as close as I could. The initial risotto is very plain (the Ramsay recipe which can be found here uses stock only, I threw in some vermouth) but the earthy and rich Jerusalem artichoke puree which is stirred in at the last minute with parmesan is delicious. I was eating it off the spoon whilst I stirred the risotto and I think my greed meant I put a bit too much in, hence the porridge look. All in all this is the best way to have Jerusalem artichokes that I have come across.


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I’m quite surprised that I haven’t already posted a recipe for pizza before as it is something I make at least once a month. Why you might ask? Well, I refuse to pay more than £5 for a supermarket pizza when that money could buy a bottle of wine. I am also deeply uncomfortable with the takeaway process.

If I were to order a takeaway pizza I would spend the entire 30 to 60 minute delivery time panicking that the driver had not been able to find my front door or that perhaps my doorbell had broken. Then there is the whole tipping palaver which is why I also hate going to the hairdresser and staying in hotels. Tipping a helmeted delivery boy is not easy. Should I shake his hand? Slip it in his pocket whilst he hands me the pizzas? Wink? All in all it’s much easier to make it myself.

This is a completely bastardised pizza recipe of course. Actual Italians don’t use Wright’s Ciabatta mix, I am sure. Much experimentation over the years had told me that this is by far the best bread mix for pizza. Don’t bother with pre-made pizza bases, they are horrid.


So, just open a bag of Ciabatta mix and pour out enough for your needs. To make a pizza to feed four you would need about half a bag. Probably more if you aren’t having salad. Add a glug of olive oil then enough hot water to form a dough, which is not very much water. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.

Whilst the dough is doing its thing fry a garlic clove in some oil until golden, add some dried oregano and a tablespoon of tomato puree then some balsamic vinegar or red wine. Finally add a tin of chopped tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes or so then leave to cool.

Once the dough is ready roll it out to a rough square because square pizzas are better than round ones, fact. Top the base with your chilled tomato sauce and whatever else you are using.

Let me talk you through this pizza here which is the invention of my sister Felicity and the best home made pizza ever. It is topped with some roasted and skinned yellow pepper and mozzarella before cooking. It takes about 20 minutes in a hot oven. Once out of the oven add more chunks of mozzarella and strips of Parma ham before flinging over some rocket and a drizzle of oil.

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Taste buds are a curious thing, a physical extension of an intangible sense. Science can dissect the tongue along acidic and base lines, marking sections which amplify saltiness or sweetness like continents on a map, but there is an unscientific aspect to taste which is composed of memories and traits unique to every one of us. If your mother forced gristly liver onto your plate every Tuesday for 18 years then there is a chance you will find the rich, pate-like consistency rather unpalatable. Calf’s liver in my mouth tastes wonderful but on another anatomically identical tongue it tastes revolting.




Taste and memories are obviously intrinsically linked, it seems almost a cliché to say it. Coriander reminds me of a walk along a canal where I discovered a plant with some white berries which I squashed between my fingers. The strong, rotten smell which coated my hands reminded me of rancid cheese. When coriander became huge years later (and it really is huge, is there a herb more ubiquitous than coriander?) my first whiff of the innocent looking leaf sent me hurtling back to that canal-side walk. Suffice to say I loathe coriander with every fibre of my being.



Until recently I wasn’t keen on beetroot. You might say that since I now rather like beetroot I was mistaken in my dislike, yet isn’t taste an entirely subjective thing? When I hated beetroot I hated it and now I like it…well…I like it. There is no objective beetroot taste which we can judge to be good or bad, all that matters is your taste in the present moment. Most adults keep trying things because there is nothing more embarrassing than being thought of as a fussy eater. If we didn’t persist with things we don’t like at first then the landscape in the south of France would look very different, there would be no need for Fairtrade coffee and the sea would be swarming with anchovies.


Beetroot has been a very exciting discovery. I have moved on from the vacuum-packed, quartered beetroots with spring onion that I tried to avoid when I was younger. Recent experiments produced a raw beetroot salad with pear and feta and, most excitingly, a pearl barley and beetroot ‘risotto’. It’s not a risotto at all of course but it looks a little like one. Anyone traumatised by early memories of chewy little beads of barley in stews will have to be gently coaxed into trying this dish but they may be pleasantly surprised.





Pearl Barley and Beetroot ‘risotto’


Serves 2


2x small raw beetroot

75g pearl barley (uncooked weight0

1 small red onion

1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp oil

A little feta cheese and ½ tbsp chopped mint

Salt and pepper


Thoroughly clean the pearl barley in cold water. Place in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour.


Whilst the pearl barley cooks cut the beetroot into thin strips or half-discs and dice the onion. Gently fry the beetroot and onion in a little oil. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to fry gently. By the time the pearl barley is cooked the beetroot and onion should have cooked for about 30 minutes. The beetroot will be softened but still have a bite to it.


Drain the pearl barley and use the saucepan to melt the redcurrant jelly. Whisk the liquid and add the vinegar and oil until it has emulsified. Return the pearl barley to the pan, there will be quite a bit of liquid but this will reduce down. Add the cooked beetroot and onion to the saucepan and stir.


Continue to stir the mixture on the heat until the sauce has reduced. It won’t coat the grains like a risotto but it’s ready when a wooden spoon pulled along the base of the pan leaves a clear path which doesn’t immediately fill with liquid, in the case of this dish it is rather like the parting of the red sea.


Stir in most of the chopped mint then serve with the remaining chopped mint and the crumbled feta cheese on top.

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