Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Clearing out the Freezer...

I've been trying to clear out the freezer, fridge and store cupboard in advance of our holiday next week. To be fair, I've been buying much more carefully to try and avoid waste, both for reasons of economy and to try and be as environmentally friendly as possible, yet somehow I have still ended up with rather a lot of ingredients left over. However, much to my surprise, this clearing exercise has actually been a much more pleasurable process than I remembered. Perhaps it is because I am becoming a more creative cook, or maybe it's just dumb luck, but I have to say, I'm enjoying it!

Last night I made a risotto, which is one of our favourite meals and is a great dish to help clear your store cupboard. I always use Riso Gallo for my risotto recipes - either their Arborio risotto rice or their Carnaroli risotto rice. The latter is my preferred ingredient, but it isn't always available. Any risotto rice will work for this recipe, but not instant risotto. I'm not a big fan of instant risotto - it seems somehow an insult to this wonderful dish that asks only about twenty minutes of stirring. I know we all have busy lives, but surely we can manage to give twenty minutes to the preparation of a meal? And I have to say, stirring is very therapeutic, and I'm not the only one who thinks so! If you don't believe me, just try making risotto one night when you are stressed after a hard day. Pour a glass of wine and gently stir your dinner together. By the time you sit down to eat you will definitely feel much more relaxed.

Risotto is a brilliant dish for using up left over ingredients. Indeed, this dish can be made with left over chicken or you can cook chicken breasts for it specially. If you are cooking the chicken specially, I recommend baking them. Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the chicken breasts in the roasting pan before cooking, turning them to coat them with the oily mixture. This gives a wonderful flavour to the chicken. I often cook chicken this way and in fact made extra last night so we would have some left over for yummy sandwiches at lunchtime today. (Most chicken breasts will cook in about 30 to 40 minutes in a 375 F or 170 C oven. They should be turned once half way through the cooking time and cooked until no pink remains inside.)

Here is my recipe for a wonderfullly comforting meal.

The 21st Century Housewife's
Chicken, Pea and Artichoke Risotto
Serves 2
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
180 grams risotto rice
1 litre (approximately) chicken stock (made from cubes is fine)
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut in thin slices
1 cup of frozen peas
1/2 cup already prepared artichoke hearts, chopped
(I use Marinated and Grilled Artichoke Hearts but any prepared ones will do, even canned ones)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium size saucepan. Add the onion and cook until it begins to become translucent. Add the risotto rice and stir for a few minutes, just to coat with the oil.
Now begin adding small amounts of the stock, stirring until it is absorbed. Take your time over this, there is no rush. You need to stir risotto pretty much constantly. Once the first amount of stock has absorbed, add some more. You will need at least 1 litre for this amount of rice. You want a risotto that is creamy but not runny, and you want the rice to have a good "bite" to it, but you don't want it to be tough. If the recipe needs it, don't be afraid to add more stock, but do it a bit at a time or else you could end up with soup!
When the risotto has reached a good consistency, taste a bit of the rice. It should be firm, but give as soon as you bite it. When that point is reached (and the risotto should look creamy and delicious), stir in the frozen peas, chicken and artichoke hearts. Continue to stir while the ingredients heat through. If the dish looks too thick at this point, add a tiny bit more stock and stir it in. Taste again, ensuring the rice is al dente ("to the tooth" as described in the first line of this paragraph).
Serve with crusty bread.

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