Resplendent Risotto & the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Little Arancini

Here we are, at the start of a brand new year, full of hope & a handful of resolutions!  After decadent December’s sparkly finale of festivities, January’s bright, crisp sunshine has been a welcome sight.  Although we’re barely into the New Year, piled up platefuls of plenty are replaced with sparse-looking salads, kale on a crispbread & some rather questionable smoothies.  Personally, I don’t go in for all that stuffing & starving yourself (there are other ways to be miserable).  As I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog, there are two things to remember: (1) your “in door” is much larger than your “out door” (think about it) & (2) everything in moderation (one slice of chocolate cake, not six).  January is not a sponge to wipe away the over-indulgences of December!  It’s still Winter & we need warming, cocooning comfort food that satisfies the appetite & fills you up, so this is no time to start depriving your body of much required sustenance!

Weekends here usually involve whizzing around on a Saturday doing chores, catching up with friends, family & phone calls, followed by a lovely lazy Sunday with the Husband, a glass or two of wine & watching old movies together while dinner’s cooking.  Sometimes, I’ll cook a roast chicken & make chicken stock at the same time (multi-tasking at it’s finest!).  Homemade stock is extremely easy to make, you know what’s in it (no hidden nasties) & is very versatile too, being the base to many soups, sauces & dishes.  It also means that we can have a rich, rib-sticking risotto on a Monday night, made with fabulously fresh chicken stock, a bit of bacon & a variety of colourful vegetables.  Here’s a link to my easy roast chicken & chicken stock recipe:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/beauty-the-baste/

Risotto is a simply sumptuous staple dish & as long as you give it your full attention (no wandering off mid-cooking to check the score or your social media), it will reward you with a rich, resplendent rice dish.  Once you master the basic recipe, you can add your favourite flavoursome ingredients & toppings.

This is a recipe I’ve been cooking for years & have found it works well every time, plus the leftovers can be made into some rather tasty arancini – risotto is a bit like the gift that keeps on giving.  Gorgeously gooey & glossy risotto is beautiful piled on a plate, adorned with shimmering roasted vegetables & a drizzle of the oil from the pan with all it’s garlicky goodness.  A tray of roasted veggies will cook in about the same time too & any leftovers are perfect on pizzas, tossed in pasta or just topping some toasted ciabatta rubbed with a little raw garlic & olive oil, creating a beautiful bruschetta anytime (I’ve usually got a jar of these in the fridge).  If you’re cooking this risotto as a vegetarian meal, simply swap the chicken stock for homemade vegetable stock instead (& leave out the bacon, of course).  Ready to give it a go?  Hands washed, aprons on!

What you need:

For the Risotto:
Chicken stock (I usually have 2-3 pints in a pan heating up)
4 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon or Pancetta
3 sticks of Celery, washed & trimmed
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed & trimmed
4 large handfuls of Arborio Rice (or you can use Carnaroli if you prefer)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large glass of Dry White Wine (Pinot Grigio is good with this, but dry un-oaked white wine will do)
4oz grated Parmesan (because you’ll need some for garnish)
1oz Butter
Freshly ground Black Pepper

For the Roasted Vegetables:
Half a punnet Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
2 Peppers (each a different colour), deseeded
1 Courgette, trimmed
1 Red Onion, trimmed & outer skin removed
3 cloves of Garlic, chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Firstly, get your stock ready.  If it’s already strained & been chilling in the fridge, simple scoop off any layer of fat from the top (there shouldn’t be much).  Strain into a large saucepan using a metal sieve to remove any bits in the liquid (if you’ve forgotten to do this, just use a sieve when adding the stock to the rice).  This is important, as you don’t want any gritty bits in your risotto.  Because homemade stock already has salt in it, you won’t need to add any to this recipe (there’s no added salt to the roasted veggies either – it draws the water out & makes them mushy).

Put the lid on the pan & heat gently on a low heat until nice & hot – don’t rush this, it will only take a couple of minutes.  Sometimes, I’ll add a cup of boiling water from the kettle if I’ve made a smaller amount of stock & need more liquid.  It’s best to have more than you need, just in case.

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your roasting vegetables – wash thoroughly & apart from the tomatoes, chop into chunky pieces.

Chuck them all into a roasting tin or large dish, with a good glug of olive oil & some black pepper (a little goes a long way, so go steady with this).

Chop the garlic & add to the tin, giving everything a good toss around (get your hands in there!).  If you prefer, just give the garlic a bash with the back of a knife & chuck it in the pan whole – it will flavour everything, but more delicately (plus you can squeeze it onto crusty bread later for a snack).

Put in the middle of the oven to cook while you make the risotto.  Give everything a shake after about 10 minutes & return to the oven.  Once cooked, pop them on a cooling rack (this will be when your risotti is finished, but here’s a picture to give you an idea of what to expect).

Prepare your risotto vegetables – wash them thoroughly, trim the ends & chop finely.  Set to one side.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan & using a pair of scissors, cut the bacon into small pieces into the pan.

Add the onion & celery, stir frying for a couple of minutes until softened slightly & a little translucent.  Make sure you keep everything moving, as you don’t want the onions to “catch” & burn.

Add the rice to the pan, stirring well & ensuring it is thoroughly coated in the oil (this is important).

Pour the glass of white wine into the pan & stir well (the scent of this bit is always lovely!).  Always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!

Add a couple of ladles of stock into the pan, stirring thoroughly into all the ingredients.  Keep stirring gently until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice & repeat this step.

After about 20 minutes, give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (just like pasta – cooked “to the tooth”).  The rice should be easy to bite through, yet it will still be firm.  If you think it needs a bit longer, add another ladle of stock, stir well & when absorbed, taste it again.

Once you’re happy with your risotto, add a generous handful of Parmesan, along with a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & leave the pan to one side (you can cover it up if you like).  Give it a couple of minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese.

Spoon generously onto a plate & top with roasted vegetables, dust with a little black pepper & Parmesan, then tuck in!  This rich, warming comfort food tastes lovely with leftover chicken from Sunday dinner or try topping with crispy chicken legs roasted with honey, lemon & fresh Thyme.  Have a wander around my other recipes to give you some ideas.

Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers, which are perfect for creating the most amazing arancini (which literally translates as “little oranges”).  Because the amount leftover varies each time I make risotto, I don’t tend to measure the ingredients when I make these beautiful little rice balls, so these are approximate measurements below.  An ice-cream scoop comes in very handy when you’re making these & I have been known to use a melon baller on occasion, hence the title to this blog.  Ready?   Let’s get rolling!

What you need:

Leftover Risotto (cold & preferably left overnight)
Breadcrumbs (4-6 thick slices of bread, whizzed in the food processor should do it & any bread – I’ve used seeded, white, brown, whatever needs using up)
1 large Egg, beaten
2oz Plain Flour
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Tip the cold risotto into a bowl & break up any large lumps.  Using a tablespoon or an ice-cream scoop, take little heaps of cold risotto & shape into balls in your hand (yes, you’re going to get messy but that’s half the fun).  Leave them on a tray in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour (if you can leave them for a couple of hours, this will be better).

Put the flour in a flat bowl or casserole dish lid.  Do the same with the breadcrumbs.

Beat the egg in another similar dish (tip: add a tiny pinch of salt to break down the egg & make it smoother).

Roll them around in a little flour, shaking off the excess, dip in the beaten egg, shaking off the excess again & drop into the breadcrumbs.  Give them a good roll around, making sure they are thoroughly coated in breadcrumbs & put on a large plate while you make the rest.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan & gently shallow fry a few of the arancini at a time, moving them around the pan gently.  Cook them until golden all over, which takes just a couple of minutes.

Once crispy & golden, remove the arancini & place on kitchen paper to remove the excess oil (or tip them into a metal sieve & shake).

Perch these plump little treats onto a watercress salad, drizzle with beautiful balsamic vinegar & add a dusting of black pepper.  My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato (see my meatball blog for tomato sauce recipe).  These more-ish little mouthfuls are perfect for munching, whether for lunch, supper or as a simple starter (also great for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks or curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine & a good film).

Next time you cook a roast chicken for dinner, make some stock & rustle up a resplendent risotto & itsy bitsy teeny weeny tiny little arancini!  Stay hungry!  😉  A x

Spatch the Chicken!

After a busy bustling week, we all look forward to a relaxing weekend & especially indulging in some home-cooked delights.  Although rare, sometimes Sunday mornings begin with a bit of a lie-in until at least 8am, snuggling up to the Husband while our beautiful cat snoozes on the foot of the bed, one eye open to see if we’re getting up yet.  Sundays are perfect for relaxed cooking & sometimes you just want an easy, lazy dinner that you can chuck in the oven & forget about (until dinner time that is!).  Nobody wants to be racing around the kitchen, trying to prepare a fabulous feast for the family in record time.  The best meals are those that just fit together, like the pieces of an edible food puzzle.  We tend to eat our Sunday meal at dinner time, giving us a chance to catch up with family & friends during the day, enjoy a crisp Autumn walk in the sunshine together, or simply curl up on the sofa together & watch old films.  Eating later in the day means you can just kick off your shoes, pour yourself a glass of wine & relax for the evening, especially in the chillier months.

Most roast dinners or lunches consist of a delicious, slow-roasted joint of meat or chicken, cooked to perfection & surrounded by a selection of sumptuous sides.  It’s great when you have the time, but not everyone wants to start preparing lunch first thing in the morning (especially when you should be making a pot of fresh coffee & a mini mountain of fluffy pancakes).  This is where a spatchcocked chicken comes in handy.  To reduce the cooking time of a piece of meat, it is sometimes butterflied or spatchcocked.  This bodes well for those long days at work or when you’ve been out galavanting & haven’t the energy to cook a full-on roast dinner, but have guests arriving in a couple of hours or just want to eat before midnight!  Obviously, there is some element of preparation & even a little delegation, but spatchcocked chicken is an elegant yet effortless dish that your family & guests will love.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I always have a selection of sides in the freezer ready prepared for impromptu dinners & after-work suppers (if you prep them the day before, you can pop them in the fridge, ready for Sunday).  This could perhaps be one of the laziest, most rapid roast dinners you’ll cook if you’ve done the same, so here’s a couple of links to my previous blogs to give you a bit of help:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/freezing-your-assets/  or  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-kitchen-nightmare-readymeals-set-go/

Ready to spatch the chicken?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

1 small/medium Chicken, no giblets (about 1.2 – 1.5kg approx)
6-8 rashers Smoked Bacon
1 large Lemon (or a couple of smaller ones)
Handful of fresh Thyme or Rosemary
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Half a pint cold Water

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Prep your tin – get a large roasting tin, drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom & set aside.

Unpack your chicken from the wrapper & cut off the string holding the legs together.  Do not wash the chicken – any bacteria will be killed in the cooking process.   Now I’m not being the recycling police, but please wash the plastic tray in hot soapy water & chuck it in the recycling bin – or maybe use as a plant pot tray in the garden instead (great for sitting trays of seedlings on).

Pop the legs out of their sockets – hold the chicken breast side facing you, leg in each hand & push them back until you feel them give.

On a chopping board, place the chicken breast-side down, so the underneath & wings are showing (they are usually tucked under the body).

Taking a pair of strong kitchen scissors, cut either side of the spine all the way to the Parson’s nose (the wobbly bit of flesh at the top).  You will cut through bone, so your scissors need to be sharp.  Remove the spine & save to make stock (see my blog on preparing a chicken for this – here’s the link: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).

Turn the chicken breast-side up again & lay in the roasting tin, splaying out the body & legs.  Give the top of the bird a firm press down, just to contact the chicken with the tin.

Layer the bacon rashers all over the breast part of the bird & legs if you like too (I use the bacon to cover any areas where the skin has split & it keeps the meat moist, basting it with it’s fat & juices).  Wash your hands thoroughly.

On another chopping board, cut the lemon into quarters lengthways, squeeze the juice all over the bird.  Lay the quarters in each corner of the tin.  If you can’t get large lemons, use a couple of smaller ones.  To get the most juice from them, give the lemons a firm roll on the board first.

Drizzle with olive oil, then season with a good sprinkling of the sea salt & black pepper.

Chuck in a few sprigs of fresh herbs, sharing around the tin to surround the bird.  Thyme or Rosemary are great for this, or you could use some of both.

Pour the water around the chicken.

Place in the lower part of the oven & cook for about an hour, until the chicken is golden & the bacon has turned a beautiful deep rose colour,  perfectly crisp.

To check if the chicken is cooked through, take a sharp knife or metal skewer & pierce the thickest part of the meat.  If the juices run clear, it’s cooked.  If not, put it back in for another 5-10 minutes & test again.

Once you’re happy with your bird, remove from the oven & strain any excess fluid from the bottom of the tin.  Drizzle the honey all over the top, legs & all.  Cover with a baking tin or foil & leave to rest for about half an hour, while you prepare the sides.  Resting the meat will give it a chance to relax & it will carve much easier.

When everything is ready, dish up that dinner!  Whether you have a few roasted potatoes & a salad, or all the trimmings, this rapid roast will feed the family & impress your guests at how quickly you pulled it together.

But it doesn’t end there, you can still make a few more meals with the leftovers.  Any extra slices of cooked chicken (& don’t forget the bacon bits!) can be used for packed lunches, crammed into pots with pasta, roasted peppers & salad, or stuffed in freshly baked baguettes, filled to the brim with rocket, fresh basil leaves & a splodge of mayo or pimped up Greek Yoghurt (just add a pinch of black pepper & dollop of pesto to a cup of the yoghurt).  Plus you can save the carcass to make stock too!  Great for rustling up a rich risotto, making a spicy soup or even for gravy.  See my “Bird in the Hand” blog link I shared above for instructions & just chuck it back in the oven to work it’s magic, while you all tuck in to dinner (multi-tasking at it’s finest of course).

Next time your Sunday is stretched, save some time & spatch the chicken!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

Pollo Put The Cacciatore On, Let’s All Have Tea!

After a truly magnificent Summer, the sweltering heatwave has subsided into a beautifully balmy Autumn, bringing with it an array of amber & ruby rouge coloured leaves in the garden.  Sultry Autumnal evenings require soothing, slow-cooked, substantial suppers full of rich colour too.  Working long hours or shifts, whatever your line of work or study, can have a knock-on effect when it comes to preparing a hearty, satisfying evening meal.  As  the nights start to draw in, we begin to crave richer & robust fayre to comfort us in the cooler evenings ahead.

Preparing meals in advance is a definite must for the cooler seasons, so with a little planning you can have a tantrum-free tea-time without a fuss & feel good about feeding a wholesome, homemade meal to your family.  Not everyone has the luxury of a couple of spare hours in the day to prepare food & sometimes it can all seem a bit too much, so ready meals become a regular option.  It’s easy to come home, flop into an armchair & dial up a delivery dinner, but it’s not a good idea every night.  When I worked in an office, I would prepare food at every opportunity I had – the night before, in the morning, the weekends, even during my lunchbreak on occasion!  It just needs a little organising & teamwork – I have help from my fabulous assistants (aka Husband & Son).  Whole chickens are boned & filleted, before being turned into simple suppers & frozen in readiness for rewarding after-work dinners.  Vegetables are sliced & chopped (my little food processor is an absolute treasure for this!), then popped into pans of water or stored in the fridge for when you just need a handful of veg.  Pots of stock can defrost on a cooling rack, waiting to be whipped up into a rich, rib-sticking risotto, topped with a couple of roasted, crispy chicken legs.  One of the best things about a risotto is there’s always enough left to make arancini for lunch the next day too, which means you’ve already covered meals for two days & there’s no waste!

Pollo alla Cacciatore is one of our favourite Autumnal dinners & it’s really easy to cook too.  The name cacciatore means “hunter” (so does chasseur in French too), & this dish is cooked or prepared in the hunter’s style.  Apparently, it was usual for the hunters to cook the meat, whether it was chicken, rabbit, boar or whatever they had, adding some slices of speck (a type of cured pork) or pancetta to the pan, along with a few foraged mushrooms & herbs.  Some would add wine (depending on the region, it would be red or white), some would add tomatoes & maybe a few carrots, then everything would simmer slowly in a steamy cooking pot.  Obviously, there are a few different recipes out there, as everyone has their own version & it’s down to personal choice.

My recipe is one I’ve been cooking for over 30 years (in my kitchen, I might add, not the woods!) & is always warmly welcomed on chilly evenings.  All it takes is a few minutes to prepare & an hour to slowly stew in the oven, so all the meat falls off the bone & the flavours infuse into the sumptuous sauce.  You can buy ready prepared chicken portions if you prefer & use whichever cut you enjoy.  Chicken legs & thighs are perfect for this recipe as they are much more flavoursome, especially when they’re cooked on the bone.  These portions of meat tend to be overlooked & so often wasted, yet they are a much cheaper, just as tasty alternative to chicken breast.  If you do use chicken breast, you will need to reduce the cooking time as they cook quicker & the meat can go stringy (don’t worry, I’ll remind you later on in the recipe).

Two things I will recommend are: (1) get yourself some good tongs for cooking the chicken (trying to manoeuvre slippery chicken portions in a hot pan with a spatula is a bit tricky!).  (2) If you do add wine, only use the stuff you would drink – don’t use cheap plonk, it will make your dish taste cheap (there’s no wine in my recipe, however you can add a small glass of red wine with the tomatoes if you wish).  Those dinky two-glass mini bottles are brilliant for these types of recipes.

My recipe feeds four hungry people, but you can halve it if it’s just two of you dining (I regularly do this if I’ve got a couple of spare chicken legs).  Ready to prep your pollo?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

4 Chicken Legs or 6-8 Thighs (skin on & bone in) or 4 Chicken Breasts (skin on, halved)
4-6 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon (freeze the rest in 4 rasher batches, so you always have some when you need it)
2 tins Italian Plum Tomatoes, crushed by hand in a bowl (get your hands in, you’ll wash!)
Half a tube of Tomato Puree
6-8 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely or crushed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (at least 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dried Oregano
Half a dozen fresh Basil leaves, chopped roughly (or 2 teaspoons Dried Basil)
1 or 2 teaspoons Sugar (this is to soften the acidity in the tomatoes)
1 large Red Onion, topped, tailed & chopped chunky
1 each large Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & quartered, or left whole if small
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180*C & get yourself a large, lidded casserole dish big enough to take your chicken & the sauce (there is always more sauce than you think & you don’t want it overflowing!).  Sometimes I use two dishes & then leave one untouched for freezing.

Prepare the onion & vegetables, chop the garlic & set aside.

Prepare your chicken (if you’re doing it yourself, please have a look at my blog here: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).  Trim off any excess skin on the underside of the legs (use kitchen scissors to save yourself any stress of chasing a raw chicken around a chopping board).

Do NOT wash the chicken – the heat will kill any bacteria, plus it’s going in a hot pan & believe me, cold water & hot oil do not mix!  Do wash your hands well though.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan, then fry the chicken portions skin side down for about a minute.  Add the bacon & fry this alongside the chicken.

Turn over the chicken portions once they begin to brown & fry the underside for another minute – for chicken breasts, ensure all the sides are sealed & there are no pink bits.  If you’re pan isn’t hot enough or your chicken portions are big, it might take a couple of minutes each side.  You just want to seal the meat here, not cook it through.

Once browned, transfer the chicken & bacon to a large casserole dish.  Using scissors, snip the bacon into pieces & scatter over the chicken, then put the lid on.

Strain off any excess fat, leaving just a little of the cooking oil & juices in the pan (add a little drizzle of oil if you think you need it).

Add the chopped onion, vegetables, mushrooms & garlic to the pan, stir frying for a couple of minutes to soften slightly.

Add the tomatoes, their juice & the puree.  Give everything a good stir & then add the herbs, mixing well.  Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Season to taste with the sugar, salt & black pepper (the sugar simply softens the acidic taste of the tomatoes, so you only need a little).

Remove the lid from your casserole dish & pour the sauce all over the chicken portions.

Put the lid back on & cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes for chicken breast, or 45 minutes to an hour for legs or thighs (I usually leave it in for an hour).

To test if it’s cooked, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a metal skewer or sharp knife.  If the juices run clear & the meat is white inside, it’s cooked.

Put the lid back on & leave the dish on a wire rack or trivet for about 25 minutes or so.  Once rested, the meat will literally fall off the bone & be easy to pull apart if you want to remove the bones (please remove them if serving to young children).

Usually, while it’s resting, I’ll pop some dinky jacket potatoes on metal skewers in the oven.  By the time they’re done, the chicken will have rested sufficiently & you can dish up!

Serve hearty, heaping spoonfuls of this rich, ruby red chicken casserole into large pasta bowls or deep plates.  Add a few of the mini-jacket potatoes on the side, crushed up with puddles of butter & dusted with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan.  This goes very well with freshly baked, warm focaccia – just dunk chunks in the sauce to mop up all that goodness.

This recipe is brilliant for freezing, just spoon leftovers into individual pots or bags & freeze (lay an open freezer bag in a bowl, then fill & seal – it won’t move around & spill sauce all over if you do it this way).  Defrost & warm through when you fancy something warming (great for those evenings when you know you’re going to need a speedy supper!).  Any leftover sauce is really versatile too!  Simply freeze in single portion pots & use as much or as little as you need.  It’s lovely ladled onto well-buttered jacket potatoes, poured over a pile of papparadelle, or even just heated up & eaten as a chunky soup with fresh crusty bread!  I’ve even made a lasagne with it, layering between thin sheets of pasta & creamy cheese sauce.

When the evenings start to get chilly & you’ve had a long day, don’t reach for the ready meals – put the Pollo alla Cacciatore on & you’ll all have tea ready in no time!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x