A long, long time ago, I can still remember (cue for a song?) the Husband and I would go on road trips. Once over the Channel and off the ferry we would literally toss a coin and decide to go right or left. Thus we have discovered the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, and ITALY, the country of choice for today’s cooking.
It was nearing the end of a particular trip and also the end of the summer when we landed in a tiny village, on the coast of Northern Italy, just before crossing over into France. We had almost despaired of finding anywhere to stay as everywhere was closing down, when we found a trattoria with rooms. Very basic but clean and somewhere to put our heads at night. We were the only people staying and the only people in the restaurant when we went down to dinner. The room was lit by overhead florescent lights, not exactly conducive to romance so I asked the waiter if he could turn them down a little – and perhaps a candle? He disappeared and returned with a half a dozen birthday candles and a couple of nightlights and turned off the overheads. Such is the love of amore in the Italians! (And the best seafood stew was served – ever!)
To my mind one of the most ideal comfort food, both making it and eating it, is risotto. You must, like the stock that requires constant topping up, be completely absorbed by it: one moment of distraction and it can go from silky perfection to stodgy pudding. There’s a meditative quality to the process — chopping, stirring, keeping the risotto glossy and full, maintaining the balance between stock and rice. It’s like a slow dance. This recipe is a slightly different take – a Venetian recipe – a looser, soupier version – with one of my favourite desserts to follow (easy recipe!)
- 1 litre chicken stock (cube will do)
- 150g pancetta (or streaky bacon) cut into small cubes
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped
- 160g carnaroli rice (arborio rice will do but it won’t be as loose)
- A small glass of dry white wine (one for yourself)
- 400g frozen peas
- A small handful of mint leaves, shredded
- 40g butter
- 75g parmesan, grated
Heat the stock in a large pan and leave it to simmer gently. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add the pancetta. You do not need oil — the pancetta will release its own and happily cook in that for 3-4 minutes to take on a golden, crispy appearance. Remove from the heat and set aside. Heat a few glugs of olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and gently sauté the onion with a good pinch of salt. Stir, and after a few minutes, when the onions are turning glossy and translucent, add the rice. Make sure each grain is coated with oil, that the rice is starting to toast and is incorporated with the onions, then add the vermouth, stirring as it evaporates. Without allowing the rice to dry out, add a ladleful of warm stock. Continue to cook gently, adding more stock as it is absorbed into the rice for the next 12-15 minutes. Add the peas, most of the mint and the pancetta with another good ladleful of stock. Carry on stirring gently and adding more stock for 8 minutes, never letting the rice dry out but not flooding it either. Test a grain of rice between your teeth — it should have a soft resistance to your bite — and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add a final half-ladle of stock and stir. Risi e bisi should be looser and wetter than a regular risotto. Stir in the butter until it has melted, then fold through most of the parmesan. Serve in large shallow bowls, with a scattering of the remaining parmesan and mint, and a scant twist of black pepper.
Tiramisu serves 2
- 300ml pot double cream
- 125g tub mascarpone
- 40ml marsala (tia maria or brandy will also do)
- 4 dessertspoons golden caster sugar
- 150ml strong coffee, made with 2 tbsp coffee granules and 300ml boiling water
- 1/2 pack pack sponge finger
- 15g chunk dark chocolate
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
Put a 568ml pot double cream, 250g tub mascarpone, 75ml marsala and 5 tbsp golden caster sugar in a large bowl. Whisk until the cream and mascarpone have completely combined and have the consistency of thickly whipped cream. Pour 300ml strong coffee (made with 2 tbsp coffee granules and 300ml boiling water) into a shallow dish. Dip in a few of the sponge fingers at a time, turning for a few secs until they are nicely soaked, but not soggy. Layer these into your dish until you have used half the sponge fingers, then spread over half of the creamy mixture. Using the coarse side of the grater, grate over most of the dark chocolate. Then repeat the layers (you should use up all the coffee), finishing with the creamy layer. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight.To serve, dust with 2 tsp cocoa powder and grate over the remainder of the chocolate.
This can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days before the dusting – so you either continue to be generous to your neighbour – or eat it all yourself!