Courgette and Bacon Risotto

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The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed, from this week’s photos and last, that I have not been in my Orange Kitchen. This is because I was in London for the past two weeks – and the photos in these two posts are taken in either my brother’s kitchen, or at Ollie & Anna’s house, for whom the Chocolate Pudding was made.

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I had to go back to London to sort out a new visa, which was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family. Sunday lunch x2: first cooked by Ollie, delicious beef, puffy Yorkshires, and Ollie’s speciality cauliflower cheese; and second in a London pub, catching up with old friends. Beer Wednesday & curry, lunch with friends, drinks with the girls from work, (the other) Ollie & El’s housewarming party, a lazy bank holiday Monday on the South Bank – I’ve been well and truly spoiled.

And the weather – the weather was glorious! The very best of English spring/summer days: warm, but not too hot, maybe a light breeze. And is there anywhere more beautiful than London on a sunny day?

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This is the type of weather which begs for light, fresh food. My brother and I made a delicious supper the other day of a broad bean, pea, courgette, mint and feta salad, and some asparagus wrapped in parma ham with hollandaise sauce – so simple, and so delicious. Another night, I made a risotto with courgette and bacon. One of the things I love about risotto and pasta is how great they are all year round. You can have rich, dark, meaty pastas or a warm, comforting mushroom risotto in the winter, but just as delicious are the light, fresh pastas and risotto which make a feature of green vegetables.

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Courgettes are one of my very favourite vegetables. I love them any way they come – steamed, griddled, roasted, raw in a salad, all delicious in my book. They marry really well with salty little bites of bacon, and the soft, almost creamy flesh is delicious in risotto. As with so many risotto dishes, this is very adaptable – last time I made it, I included lemon and pine nuts, and this time, I stirred through some leftover feta at the end. I think it definitely needs something like lemon or feta (different as those two things are!) – something sharp and zingy to lift it.

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Courgette & Bacon Risotto 
Serves 2

  • Approx 50-75g cubed pancetta/lardons/streaky bacon cut into cubes
  • 1 Courgette/Zucchini, cut into small cubes (approx 5mm squares)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 150-200g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli on this occasion)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • Approx 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Approx 50g feta, cubed (optional)
  • Squeeze of lemon (optional)
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Heat a fairly large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the cubed pancetta, and allow to fry until fairly brown and crisp. Once the bacon is crisp, reduce the heat to low, and add the onion and garlic. I find that the fat that comes out of the bacon means that you do not need to add any oil, but take a view on this and add a little olive oil if you feel it needs it. Soften the onions slowly until they are soft and lightly browned, and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the bacon is salty. In the meantime, in another pan, bring the stock to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

Once the onions are soft, increase the heat to medium and add the courgettes to the pan – cook for a minute. Add the risotto rice to the pan, and stir to coat the rice in the juices in the pan. Allow to cook for another minute or two, then add the wine. Stir, and allow the rice to absorb the wine. Add  the stock to the pan a ladle at a time, and allow the rice to absorb the liquid before adding another ladle, stirring all the time.

Continue this until the rice is soft and creamy but still has a little bite. If you run out of stock, continue with water. Stir the grated parmesan, feta and/or lemon through the risotto, and check the seasoning.

Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.

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Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

I love Jerusalem artichokes – so much so, in fact, that I was willing to brave the snow here last Saturday to make a trip to our local farmers’ market in search of them. These knobbly, unpromising-looking tubers are well worth getting to know, if you don’t already. They have an earthy sweetness, and are very versatile – in many ways, you can treat them as you would a potato, they are delicious roasted, mashed, sautéed… Yum.

Jerusalem artichokes

My love of sunchokes*, as they are sometimes known over here, is relatively recent. When I first moved to London, I lived with three boys I’d been at university with, and for a few years, we settled into post-student life – that is, a life in which our alcohol intake and level of responsibility placed on us were on a par with our student years, but where jobs + salaries = better funding… We are all now very grown up, of course. The area we lived in was lots of fun, but one thing we were lacking was a place to buy good fruit & veg locally. The situation has improved, and there are now a couple of good farmers’ markets in Brixton and Oval, but before these were up and running we decided to get a weekly veg box from the wonderful Growing Communities at Hackney City Farm. It’s an amazing enterprise, which, among other things, has an organic fruit and veg box scheme, and which has recently won the Observer Food Monthly award for Best Independent Local Retailer. We had no choice about what we received in our weekly supply, and so I cooked for the first time with beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke, kale.. to name but a few. We also used to receive recipe sheets each week with our produce, and one of the weeks included this recipe for Jerusalem risotto, which I made, and promptly fell in love with.

Preparing the artichokes

This is a great recipe – it involves cooking the thinly sliced artichokes down till they’re a jam-like consistency which melts into the risotto and the end result is wonderful. However, full disclosure: it does take a bit of time. It’s not difficult, but peeling and slicing the ‘chokes, and cooking them slowly till they’re all caramelised and yummy, takes a bit of patience. Once they’re cooking, you can do other things (such as washing up after the delicious curry your boyfriend made the night before…), but you do need to be on hand to stir now and then to make sure they don’t catch on the bottom. And, of course, making the risotto itself does take a certain amount of stove time… I would not be posting this, however, if I did not think it was 100% worth it!

Sauteed artichokes

A word about stock – of course, it is much better if you happen to have on hand/have time to make homemade stock. However, if you’re not able to do this, just use a stock cube or bouillon powder – I use them for risotto fairly regularly as I’m rarely organised enough to coincide making risotto with having stock in the house. That’s my tuppence-worth, for what it’s… worth.

Adding the rice

*I was about to write a slightly scathing ‘pah, why are they called sunchokes?’-type comment, when I realised there is no rhyme nor reason to their being called Jerusalem artichokes, either – and when you see the plant’s flowers, the whole ‘sun’choke thing starts to make sense…

Jerusalem artichoke risotto 1

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Serves 2

  • 2 knobs butter
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion – finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • Jerusalem artichokes – approx 10
  • Salt & pepper
  • 200g / 1 cup Arborio risotto rice (or another risotto rice)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 600ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • Approx 1tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Wash the Jerusalem artichokes, if they are dirty, and peel. Slice them into very thin rounds – you could use a mandolin if you have one. Put the slices into a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent discolouration.

Heat one of the knobs of butter with the olive oil in a medium sauce pan until the butter has melted. Add the onion and garlic, turn the heat down very low and saute for two minutes. Add the artichokes to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook until the mix reaches the consistency of jam/marmalade – this can take around 30-40 minutes. Stir every few minutes, to ensure none of the mix is catching on the bottom of the pan. Heat the stock in a pan, and keep warm on the stove.

Turn the heat up slightly – add the risotto rice and allow to toast slightly, before adding the white wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine has been absorbed. Add the stock a ladle at a time – stir regularly, and allow each ladle of stock to be absorbed before adding the next ladle of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked to your liking – you may not need all of the stock, or you may need more. If you run out, continue with hot water. Taste, season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like.

Take the pan off the heat, add the second knob of butter and the parmesan, and stir until melted. Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.