Mushroom Risotto - Risotto ai funghi porcini

Rice is cultivated commercially in the Po Valley, the northern part of Italy where it has the perfect environment and climate: flat lands, abundance of water, and humidity. Risotto is an Italian dish and is quite popular all over Italy with the different regions having their own specialties.

Risotto Milanese, very popular in Milan (as the name suggests) and the rest of the Lombardia region, is said to go as far back as 1574 when the Duomo di Milano was being built. The stained glass window paint seemed to have been tainted with saffron to obtain a more brilliant color. So much fuss was made about the colour that in one of the banquets, saffron was added to the rice to make it look like the stained glass. The rice was so good that the saffron became a staple addition.

I like preparing risotto for dinner since it is a one-pot dish. All you need to do is prepare your ingredients and add them at the right time! Here is what you need to make risotto ai funghi porcini:

250g Italian Risotto Rice such as Arborio or carnaroli
About 50g of dried Porcini Mushrooms
1 ½ cups full bodied Italian Red wine, chicken Stock
1 medium onion - sliced
1 handful of fresh parsley – chopped
2 tablespoons of Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Start off by soaking the funghi in some hot water and let them soak until the mushrooms have softened.

Now, in a pot or a wok, fry the onion in the olive oil and once it has softened, add the rice (raw) and stir. Coat the rice with the oil and start adding the stock a little at a time until the rice starts to soften, it is best to use a ladle or a little jug to calculate how much stock you are adding. It is important that the stock is completely absorbed before adding any more.

Add the wine to the rice and once the rice is nearly done, add the drained mushrooms.

When you are draining the mushrooms, reserve the water and straining it through a fine sieve and add the water to the rice. Again it is important that any liquid is absorbed before adding any more.
Finely add the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Marrow & Feta Cakes

The marrows in my garden are taking it somewhat easy this year! I’ve been having lots of flowers and very few marrows. Marrows will grow in your gardens or pots quite easily. All you need are some seeds and plenty of water and sun. Marrows however, are quite cheap and abundant at this time of year in most green grocers.

Having had my dose of BBQs and carbs this month, I decided to try something different for dinner. Here are my marrow and feta cakes, they are delicious as a snack, in a sandwich or as a main course accompanied by a nice salad.

Here is what you need to make about 10 little cakes
500g marrows – grated
200g feta cheese - chopped
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Fresh mint leaves
Black olives – Optional
1 egg

Start off by draining the grated marrows. Place them in a colander and sprinkle some salt over them, now allow them to drip for at least 30 minutes.

Once the marrows are drained, place them in a bowl together with the feta cheese, mix them together using a fork so that you can mash the feta cheese when needed.
Add the other ingredients one at a time mixing well after each addition.
You can dry fry these cakes in a non-stick pan or else fry them in a little oil.

Serve these warm as part of a meal or cold as a snack. These cakes can also be prepared ahead and stored in the fridge till you are ready to use them. Consume within 3 days.

Fresh Basil Pesto

Over this weekend I was getting a warm fuzzy feeling that tricked me into thinking that I am not in the middle of August but in some splendid March sunny day, when the days just start warming up but you still can stand being in the sun for more than 15 minutes.

As with most things, my state of mind will effect my cooking and so this week I started adding some baked dishes in my lunch/supper menu. Being nice and breezy gives me the peace of mind that I can spend some extra time in the kitchen and not cook the quickest simplest dish to get out of the firey heat.

So this week, I prepared one of my daughter’s favorite pasta sauces, fresh pesto. Pesto is an Italian sauce which is prepared differently in the different regions. The variations on the basic recipe all depend on what is abundant in that region. Pesto Siciliano for example has tomatoes whilst pesto Genovese has lots of basil.

Pesto Genovese is probably the most know and the most consumed, now produced in large amounts commercially, most of us just keep a handy jar in the store cupboard (which keeps for months) for that quick plate of pasta!

There is more that one can use pesto for besides as a pasta condiment, my husband uses it as part of his secret chicken marinade, you can also use it as part of your salad dressings.

The basil in my garden is pretty abundant at the moment so preparing this sauce came pretty easy. Basil grows easily in pot or window boxes and can be grown from seeds. You can also buy little seedlings from most garden nurseries and replant at home into a larger pot.

The proper Genovese Pesto is made with pine nuts, however these are pretty expensive locally. If you wish to substitute the pine nuts, I suggest using walnuts or even almonds. Don’t forget pesto is a thick sauce so a little bit of sauce will take you a long way. Here is what you need

200 gr. Pine nuts
1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves – remove all stalks
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the best you can afford
Grated Parmesan Cheese.

Place the basil leaves and nuts in a food processor and with the motor running drizzle enough olive oil to create a paste. Add the cheese and taste. Do not add any salt or pepper, however, if required, add some more cheese. It is important to blend well after each addition. If you have made too much pesto to consume all in one go, place the extra amount in a sterilized jar and top with more olive oil so that all the pesto is covered with oil.

Pesto will keep for 1 week but is best consumed fresh.

Boxed Wine from Italy

I have just come across this article about good wines being sold in boxes and even though I completely agree with the author saying that I would not be seen with a box of wine sitting on my dinner table, environmentally and economically it probably is more feasable!

The barbarians are not literally at the gate, but Italy is under some duress, judging by the headlines of the last 24 hours or so.
Thousands of soldiers have been deployed in the streets of Rome, Milan, Turin and Palermo to battle street crime and protect historic sites like the Duomo. Meanwhile, the government is cutting spending as the country absorbs a share of the world’s economic troubles. And “Time Uncovering Truth,” a painting by Italian rococo master Giambattista Tiepolo that hangs in the press room of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s official palace, has been altered to cover a bare breast.
As the nation stood at the top of several potential slippery slopes at once, yet another one emerged this afternoon. The government has decided to tolerate something that wine-worshipping Etruscan poets never dreamed of. From Bloomberg News:
Italy’s Agriculture Ministry said that some fine Italian wines that receive government quality guarantees will be allowed to be sold in boxes.

BBQ sauce

Outdoor entertaining is a preferred option at the moment and what better way to share good food in good company then to have a BBQ. Here is a recipe you can add to your BBQ repertoire to make it a little more exciting; BBQ sauce.

This is my version of making BBQ sauce. Even though there are different brands available in most supermarkets, home made sauce always has a different taste. Preparation of this sauce might be ideal to delegate to the younger members of the family to keep them occupied till it is time to eat. You can use this sauce as a dipping sauce or even to baste you meats whilst cooking.

Here is what you will need:

1 large onion
½ green pepper
1 chilli pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
few drops of Tabasco – depending on how spicy you like your sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons red wine

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whiz until the vegetables have been cut into very small pieces and the other sauces have amalgamated. It is important not to use olive oil in this recipe since its taste will be over powering, a flavour-less oil, such as canola would be better.

The mustard could be French or English, this depends on your preferred tastes I prefer using English.

This sauce can be prepared a couple of hours before being served. Allowing the sauce to set will help the different tastes to come together. BBQ sauce can be used as a dipping sauce for you meats, but can also be used to baste your chicken, beef or even pork.

This recipe has been previouly published in the E&D magazine (July, 08 Issue), out with The Times