Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry. I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.
Oh the rain! I just think it’s gone away and it comes back again. The pupster pings around the house like a lunatic if she doesn’t get out an about so it’s wellies and hat on and out into the wet and cold I go.
Of course, this calls for a comforting, winter dinner (any excuse) and what better than a scrummy toad in the hole with lashings of onion gravy.
I love butternut squash. I love its sweetness, its softness, and its beautiful orangey colour. I love risotto too, and the combination of both of them is one of my favourite meals. I happened to mention to the lovely Matt, fellow blogger and ‘Wine Evangelist’ (I love that title) at Curious Wines that I was going to knock up a butternut squash risotto and he very kindly offered to send me a couple of wines to taste with it. ‘I can’t taste wine’, was my initial reaction, but with the promise of help and tasting notes, I felt much better. Was I in? Too bloody right I was.
#1’s homecoming from bleeding his Grandparents dry in England seemed a good enough time for a little celebration, so I put the vino on ice and set about making the butternut risotto:
1 butternut squash
Salt and pepper
7 or 8 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
2 litres chicken stock
Parmesan, grated, and some for serving
So preheat the oven to 200/gas 6. Peel and deseed the squash and cut into cubes. Spread the pieces out on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over about half of the finely chopped sage leaves:
Roast for about 30 mins or until soft and slightly caramelised. You can do this in advance and allow the squash to cool, if you like:
For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:
Grab a heavy based pan, put it on a low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter. Glug in some olive oil (about 2 tbsp should do it), then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (try my trick of adding a pinch of caster sugar to stop it browning too quickly). Then add in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.
Add half the squash and the finely chopped sage. Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another. When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it.
Now add in the rest of the squash and stir in the rest of the sage (the smell is amazing). Turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, and a handful of grated parmesan, put the lid on and leave it to sit until you’re ready to serve. Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan, and serve:
Now to the wine. Our first contender was the Waipara Springs Premo Dry Riesling 2006 (€12.99 from Curious Wines), and wow did this baby surprise me. I think the last time I tried Riesling it was some medium German shocker (you can read all about what Curious Wines’ Mike has to say about Riesling here), but this was amazing – so zingy it was almost fizzy on your tongue. We’re no wine buffs, but could actually taste something citrusy, (#1 had a sip and reckoned he could taste grapefruit – and do you know what? It was actually on the tasting notes – he’s far too young to be this good) and the crisp, acidity was a perfect foil for the creamy sweetness of the risotto. Yum.
Onto the next one, then. Next up was the Tussock Pinot Gris 2007 (€14.99 from Curious Wines). You can read Matt’s notes about Pinot Gris here. This was a different kettle of fish. You could see instantly that it was much darker in colour, and for those of you who might find the Waipara Springs a little too sharp, this was much softer and really, really pleasant, although still retaining a crispness that again complemented the risotto perfectly. Try as we might, though, our dodgy palettes couldn’t make out the promised pear/apple notes – but I think that was our fault rather than the wine – and there was a lingering aftertaste that I can’t describe (help, Matt!) but that was absolutely delicious. Although this was lovely with food, we could well imagine polishing this one off whilst tucked up on the sofa in front of Lie to Me.
Sadly, after finishing two bottles of wine between us, I can’t read many of my notes and lost one of the pieces of paper, but the Waipara Springs definitely came in the winner with an impressive score of 16/20. So that’s it, then, my first ever wine tasting. I’d like to thank Mike and Matt for their patience, copious notes, encouragement… and the free wine, oh and for the slightly giggly game of poker that followed. Bless you.
What is it about Heinz tinned soups? They’re actually pretty disgusting – I mean, how do they get that gelatinous texture? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And the mushroom flavour, which is #1’s preferred choice, is frankly revolting. Too creamy, oddly grey in colour and, well, mushrooms don’t really taste like that, do they. And then there’s the tomato flavour. It’s bloody orange, for goodness sake. If there’s a power cut you could just crack one open and bingo – you’d all be able to see by the luminous orange glow emanating from the tin. But hey, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, sometimes only a tin of soup will do (I favour Baxter’s curried vegetable and lentil one personally) and I often whip up these little beauties, which are actually more scone than bread, to dunk in a revoltingly bad mannered way, into the bowl.
8 oz self raising flour
1 1/2 oz butter
4 oz cheese
1/4 pint milk
So put your flour into a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, then rub in the butter just like you would for, say, a crumble or whatever until it looks breadcrumby. Grate the cheese and stir into the flour mixture with a fork until well blended (you don’t want big lumps of cheese). Then measure out your milk in a jug, add the egg and whisk until combined. Pour slowly into the floury cheesy mixture, mixing until it just comes together and makes a soft dough. You can reserve any leftover egg/milk mixture to brush onto the top before baking.
So tip it out and give it a gentle knead just until it comes together in a nice ball. Flatten it out until it’s about 2″ thick and vaguely circular and then just divide it into six or eight wedges. Brush with the leftover milky mixture and bake at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes. Eat warm with your weirdly gelatinous soup, or with a nice salad, or with cheese and pickle…mmmmmmm…
By the way, if you’re having a posh dinner party, these are amazing made with, say, half and half cheddar and parmesan and a sprinkle of chopped rosemary, or with snipped chives and a teaspoon of mustard, or any other flavourings you can think of. Chopped sundried tomato and fresh basil would be lovely with a fresh tomato salad. Much easier than baking bread rolls and with a lovely soft texture.
So we were all in need of a bit of comfort food last night. And this packet of Carnaroli rice has been sitting in the cupboard glaring at me every time I go in there for a tin of beans. Me and risotto have a chequered history. It’s not that I don’t like it, oh no, it’s just that every time I make it, I get that kind of ‘hmmm’ response from my lot that means ‘yeah, it’s okay’, not the more favourable ‘mmmm’ which translates to ‘wow, that was fabulous’. My best effort was Jamie Oliver’s pea and prawn risotto which is rather nice.
Anyhoo, I was in the mood for a bit of messing in the kitchen (keep it clean, people) and this is the result:
2 pints chicken stock
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
300g carnaroli or arborio rice
3 or 4 large flat mushrooms
1 pack streaky bacon
2 chicken breasts (free range, natch)
Handful of frozen peas
Parmesan cheese to taste
So first things first, get your stock bubbling on the hob and plop your chicken breasts in to poach. Get a nice heavy based pan and chuck in a big slice of butter and a glug of olive oil. Finely chop your onion and garlic and let it soften on a low heat. Snip up the streaky bacon and add to the pan along with your sliced mushrooms. Keep it cooking until the mushrooms and onions are starting to look a little golden, then add your rice and stir around.
Now you can start to add ladles of your stock, one at a time, making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another. It takes a while but the stirring is really therapeutic. When the stock’s nearly gone your chicken breasts should be ready, so chop them up and add them to the risotto as well. Finally, bung in a final knob of butter, stir it through and leave it to sit for 5 minutes with a lid on, just to get even creamier. Taste, season, and pile into big bowls to eat in front of the telly.
A little fresh thyme would be lovely with this, but I didn’t have any. Enjoy!
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