Zucchini risotto

I often cook a risotto for a weekend lunch. This one’s a simple green flecked risotto to warm you up in winter.

20g butter
1 cup of arborio rice
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 zucchini (courgette), grated
handful of fresh herbs (parsley and basil), chopped roughly
sprinkle of dried oregano
1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

  1. Heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan and maintain on a low simmer.
  2. Melt some butter in a second saucepan and gently cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic.
  3. Add the rice and reduce the heat to low. Coat all grains of rice with the butter.
  4. Add some vegetable stock to just cover the rice and increase the heat to medium.
  5. Add the grated zucchini, herbs and stir in.
  6. Cook, stirring, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  7. Gradually add more stock waiting until each new batch has been absorbed. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot!
  8. Serve after 25 minutes, or when the rice is al dente.

Serves 2.

Variation: Swap the zucchini for one diced red capsicum and one grated carrot.

Taking lunch

I’ve never been very good at taking lunch to work, but when I do it’s usually leftovers. It doesn’t help that I crave variety and hate stale bread so sandwiches are out.

Last year, I worked with a lovely accountant, who had a fabulous food preparation area. Everyone had closed-in bookshelves above our desks, and instead of storing paperwork there, she had a mini-kitchen. Her space included cutlery, plate, bowl, sharp knife, cereal, sugar and tea bags. She also had her own scrubbing brush and clean tea towels (a revolutionary idea for me, as I hated using the communal ones!)

Since then I’ve been more adventurous with my lunch preparations. I love the “The Top 100 Recipes for a Healthy Lunchbox” book as it gives a good range of options and also points out allergy friendly options. There are plenty of blogs dedicated to lunchbox ideas and they provide plenty of inspiration. Perhaps the most amazing one is the Vegan Lunch Box (and book).

Bento boxes communities and blogs include Bento ChallengeBento Lunch, Just Bento, and  What’s for lunch at our house. I love the way some people use cookie cutters to create fun shaped food, although I guess that’s really for the kids.

It’s good to have some dedicated containers for lunch. This will minimise your packaging waste and may help to stop your food from leaking in your bag. Look for heavy plastic containers (numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5) are best. Tupperware containers are a popular option. You may like to consider the following:

Best recipe: Tagliatelle with ragu (spaghetti bolognese)

Spaghetti bolognese is a favourite dinner time meal loved throughout the world. It can be a simple as browning the mince and adding some bottled sauce, but just once try this traditional version. Trust me, it’s the best.

Italy’s most loved but misinterpreted dish has to be tagliatelle al ragu. When it left Italy’s shores it somehow become spaghetti bolognese. The real bolognese dish is made by tossing a little rich, slow-cooked ragu (a meat sauce, usually veal and pork) through fresh egg noodles.

There’s a number of tricks to an outstanding ragu sauce. First you really need to let it simmer for a good 3 hours to allow all the flavours to meld together and fill your house with divine smells. A dash of milk  is added to the ragu sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine. It’s worth using good quality mince, wine and stock.

60g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped or grated
90g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
220g minced ground veal or beef
220g minced ground pork
2 sprigs of oregano, chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup dry white wine
3/4 cup milk, or soy milk
400g tin chopped tomatoes or fresh
250ml beef stock
400g tagliatelle
grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta. Cook over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  2. Add the minced beef, pork and oregano to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mince has browned slightly.
  3. Pour in the wine, increase the heat and boil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the milk and reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tomato and half the stock, partially cover the pan and leave to simmer gently over very low heat for 3 hours. Add more of the stock as it is needed to keep the sauce moist.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the tageliatelle, toss with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan.

Serves 4.

Variation: These aren’t traditional variations, but if you’d like the meal to go further add a can of beans. You could also add any extra vegetables (grated) that you might have in the fridge or the garden.

Cooked for the 100 recipes to cook in your lifetime challenge. 

Spinach risotto

Actually this could be more accurately called a spinach and roasted vegetable risotto. It was a winner for both of us, so no doubt we’ll be having it again soon. Big M calls it ‘a choice vegetarian dish’. He’s been watching Jamie in his mismatched stripy beanies.

spinach, one bag or small tin
20g butter
1 cup of arborio rice
1 red onion, chopped
1 courgette
1 capsicum
1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

  1. Cook the spinach in some boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and finely chop. Set aside.
  2. Heat griddle until very hot. Sprinkle some olive oil on one side of the capsicum and the courgette. Place in pan oil side down. Turn over the courgette after 5 minutes. Turn the capsicum over after 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan and maintain on a low simmer.
  4. Melt some butter in a second saucepan and gently cook the onion until translucent.
  5. Add the rice and reduce the heat to low. Coat all grains of rice with the butter.
  6. Add some vegetable stock to just cover the rice and increase the heat to medium.
  7. Cook, stirring, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Gradually add more stock waiting until each new batch has been absorbed. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot!
  9. After 25 minutes, or when the rice is al dente, mix in the courgette and capsicum. Then add the spinach.
  10. Stir for 2 minutes and serve.

Serve with Quick Roasted Tomatoes. (optional)

Written for Joelen’s Culinary Adventures – Foodie Films: Big Night – Italian!

Macadamia pesto

We visited the Mitchie Markets on Sunday and picked up some potted herbs to plant in our veggie beds. We also discovered a new stand with seedlings and got six miniature lettuce. There are two lettuce growing from seeds we planted a month ago, but unfortunately that’s all. Perhaps we are cheating a little, but I haven’t been weighing the herbs.

A good pesto is more about the basil and less about the nuts, so to give a more local flavour I’ve swapped the traditional pine nuts for macadamias. The basil must be fresh.

1 garlic clove
50g macadamia nuts
1 cup fresh basil leaves
50g Parmasen cheese
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  1. Put the garlic, nuts, basil and cheese in a food processor (or using a mortar and pestle) and mix (pound) into a paste.
  2. Add the oil to moisten.
  3. Cook your favourite pasta.
  4. Mix pesto in with a little reserved pasta water and heat briefly.
  5. Season to taste and serve.

Note: You can keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks in a sterilized glass jar and covered in a layer of olive oil.

M.Y.O. pizza

Friday are the hardest night to plan dinner for. By then we’ve run out of ideas and steam, and the fridge is starting to look bare again. Some times the easiest thing is make-your-own pizzas. Stock up on some prepared pizza bases in the freezer – pita bread also works well.

We accidentally discovered this winning combination one Friday:

Pita bread
Tomato passatta
Half a red onion, caramelised (cook on low heat with brown sugar)
Handful of semi-dried tomato, chopped
Half a red capsicum, chopped
Several slices of ham, sliced
Several slices of sopressa, sliced
Top with handfuls of sliced fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan.

And the good thing is that’s usually quicker and healthier then pizza delivery.

Another winning combination you may like to try is to swap the ham and sopressa for a small tin of corn with several slices of prosciutto.

Gerwurzte schweinsrippchen – Braised spicy spareribs (German)

spicy ribs

Cooked for the German entry of the Euro Cup and Plate Challenge.

900g spareribs
½ cup flour
2 tsps salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 tbsps grape seed oil
1 ½ cups beef stock
¼ cup tomato sauce
3 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsps malt vinegar
½ tsp Spanish smoked paprika
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped into sixths
2 tbsps flour

  1. Cut ribs into serving sized pieces. Coat meat evenly with mixture of flour, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Melt in a frying pan the grape seed oil and add ribs. Brown slowly on both sides.
  3. Preheat over to 180°C.
  4. While meat is browning, mix into stock the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, paprika, cloves, allspice, bay leaf and garlic.
  5. Put meat into roasting pan and pour stock mixture over browned ribs. Add onion to the pan.
  6. Cover and bake at 180°C for about 2 hours, or until ribs are tender.
  7. Remove ribs and onion from the pan and serve with any gravy left in the bottom.

Serve with roasted potatoes.

Serves 2-3.

Chicken in garlic sauce (Spanish)

Chicken in Garlic Sauce

Cooked for the Spanish entry of the Euro Cup and Plate challenge.

4 organic chicken thighs
1 tsp sweet paprika (pimenton)
2 tbsp olive oil
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
60ml dry sherry
100ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1tsp salt

  1. Trim any excess fat from the chicken and cut into large pieces. Combine the paprika with some salt and pepper in a bowl, add the chicken and toss to coat.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat and cook the garlic cloves for 1-2 minutes, or until brown. Remove from the pan.
  3. Cook the chicken in batches for 5 minutes, or until brown all over. Return all the chicken to the pan, add the sherry, boil for 30 seconds, then add the stock and bay leaf. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, squeeze the garlic pulp into a mortar and pestle or small bowl. Add the parsley and salt and pound or mix with a fork to form a paste. Stir into the chicken, then cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender.
  5. Serve the chicken onto a plate, turn heat to high to thicken the sauce for 2 minutes. Pour the sauce onto the chicken.

Serve with baked potatoes.

Serves 4.

Rigatoni with sausage, fennel and tomato (Italian)

Rigatoni with sausage, fennel and tomato

Cooked for the Italian entry in the Euro Cup and Plate challenge.

2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp fennel powder
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 Italian sausages, skin removed
1 tsp thyme leaves
100ml red wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g rigatoni (tube pasta)
grated Parmesan, to serve

  1. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and fennel with a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onion for a few minutes over low heat to soften it. Break up the sausage meat with your hands and add to the pan. Increase the heat and cook until the meat is lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the the garlic, fennel and thyme and mix in. Then add the wine and stir the sauce.
  3. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the wine is reduced, then add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Cook the pasta in a large saucepan until al dente. Drain reserving some water. Add to the sauce, toss well and serve sprinkled with the Parmesan.

Serves 4.

Lahmacun – Turkish pizza

Lahmacun - Turkish Pizza

Cooked for the Turkey entry of the Euro Cup and Plate challenge.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
350g lamb mince
1 loaf Turkish bread
2 tbsp tomato paste
150g feta cheese, crumbled
1 large tomato, seeds removed, diced
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges to serve

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  3. Heat the oil in a heavy based frying pan and cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes or until soft.
  4. Add the coriander, cumin and mince. Increase the heat and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes or until the meat has browned. {and cooked through?} Season with salt and pepper. Cool.
  5. Place the bread on the baking sheet and spread with the tomato paste. Sprinkle over half the feta, and then add the mince. Sprinkle over the remaining feta.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until warmed through.
  7. Top with tomato and parsley, then cut into slices.
  8. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze over the top.

Serves 2.

Variation – Add pine nuts to the frying pan after browning the mince.