Posts tagged ‘Grains’

December 12, 2010

Special effects

Celeriac soup with puffed rice

The other day, I was reading about  yet another fantastic dessert on David’s blog, and I was wondering if he ever published something with less than a million calories. Turns out he did: he had an intriguing recipe for celeriac soup. The idea grew in the backroom of my mind, and thanks to the fact that my fridge was almost empty, I ended up with a ‘let’s empty the fridge totally’ soup, which happened to be very good. It has a very complex flavour; if you don’t like slightly sour food I’d leave the apple out  (I just love the acidic touch though).

I finished it off with yet another special effect: a trick I stole from Pietro Leemann, puffed rice. It is very simple and effective, and works wonders with any cream-textured soup.

Celeriac and apple soup with puffed rice

Ingredients (makes about three portions)

2 leeks, trimmed

4 small floury potatoes

quarter of a celeriac root

1 apple, slightly sour (eg russet, possibly a cooking apple)

1  2cm x 2cm piece of smoked bacon or pancetta

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper (white, possibly)

a small handful of red camargue rice (also wild rice or black rice would work), uncooked (about 30gr)

1/2 tablespoon  vegetable oil

olive oil

smoked Maldon sea salt (optional)

Method:

Prepare the vegetables. Peel celeriac and potatoes and cut into 2×2 cm chunks. Trim leeks, cut in half lengthwise, clean under running water making sure you get rid of all the dirt between the leaves, and chop into 1 cm thick slices. Cube the pancetta. Heat a bit of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, add the pancetta cubes and let them release some of their fat, then add leeks and celeriac and brown slightly on a high heat. Add in the potatoes and apples cubes, a bay leaf, some salt and pepper. Stir well and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cook for about 20 minutes on low heat, until all the vegetables are tender, but don’t overcook. You can also cook this is a pressure cooker for five minutes, which is what I did. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the soft vegetables and pancetta using a hand blender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, and thin with a little water if it is too thick for your liking. Can be made ahead and reheated.

When you are nearly ready to serve, heat a heavy bottomed non stick pan over high heat. Add a splash of vegetable oil, the one you’d use for frying (I used groundnut). When it is very hot, but before it starts smoking, drop in a couple of rice grains. They should pop slightly open, like pop corn (they stay smaller though, they split more than popping). If they do, add the rest of the rice in the pot, cover and give it a good shake. Over the next five minutes the rice will pop and toast.  Shake the pan now and again and if you have the feeling that they are not popping, put it back on the fire. Be careful not to burn them though.

When most of the rice has popped, place the hot soup in bowls, dress with a generous tablespoon of popped rice,  drizzle with a bit of olive oil and scatter with smoked salt. If you are using good quality salt like eg Maldon, the flakes will stay whole over the oil, making a very nice effect, like cristals.

October 18, 2010

Cooking rice

Risotto with wild mushrooms

Rice is a visual as much as a taste memory of my childhood.  In the flat part of  Northern Italy where I grew up, it is one of the most visible fields out in the landscape, together with corn and wine. Only, corn is easy to spot only in late summer, thanks to its sky-high (for a child) plants. Wines are naked and almost invisible in winter and often the wines are cut low. Rice is impossible to miss.  For a long period of time the fields are flooded and create a beautiful, haunting landscape of water reflecting the sky, where the only solid objects appear to be the few streets and the birds, often lost in the mist, with a few far away brick houses. Then the fields will explode in the most vivid green later, while sprouting, and then turn to darker colours and eventually to yellow.

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November 12, 2009

Red magic

I knew it existed, and still I ignored it until a while ago. I urge you not to do the same mistake. It is one of those ingredients that will spice up, quite literally, whatever food you are preparing.

Harissa is a red spicy paste from North africa. It contains chilli, grilled bell peppers, onion, garlic, coriander, cumin and other magical ingredients.  The first harissa I consciously tried (I’m sure I had it in Lebanese restaurants, but this does not count, as its flavour was probably blended with whatever else I was eating), I made it myself using Ottolenghi’s recipe. It was veeeery good even if my starting ingredients were a bit bland (UK supermarket stuff level, if you want to know what I am talking about), but then, all Ottolenghi recipes are. However I decided it was not worth bothering doing it, unless on special occasions. Then I saw it ready-made in my local Middle East store, and I decided to give it a try. Can you picture that endless, diverse variety of sauces and condiments you have in your fridge and cupboard, those you use when you cook Mexican or Japanese or Thai style (or Italian, of course :)), and then ignore them for the rest of the week/month/year, until the due date is well due, or you move, or maybe you cook again xxx-style? I was ready and willing to add yet another ingredient to my almost endless list. I don’t mind them at all; actually I quite like spending half an hour looking for the tamarind paste in the bottom of the fridge whenever I need it – rarely, that is –  and instead discovering in a corner that new miso paste (new a few months ago) I have not tried yet. And harissa was small, cheap and not very smelly, so it demanded little commitment on many sides.

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