The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Friday, 29 November 2013

An autumnal English risotto

It is always flattering to be asked to write a specific post after having tasted one my dishes so that the recipe can be tried again. And it often seems to happen with those dishes that I normally find very modest and unexciting, pasta or risotto in particular.

I may have already told that recently I have come to the resolution of living more seasonal and this involves among other things buying from our neighbourhood greengrocer that sells uniquely products of local farmers. This guarantees gazing at pillows of cauliflowers, sticks of leeks, and curly cabbage rather than strawberries, melons or tomatoes. I find it more and more wrong. Am I becoming too extreme? Might it be age?

Anyway, one of the consequences of the "go-with-the-seasons" resolution is to be out and about and do activities that make us feel part of the seasons. So when a friend told me about the possibility to go hunting for mushrooms with an expert guide in a near-by forest (Thetford Forest) I grabbed that opportunity and packed a flask of hot (mushrooms) soup, wicker basket, sharp knife, and husband & son!  

Luckily we had a guide. Of all the wonderful looking mushrooms that we indiscriminately picked in a flurry of excitement only three of them got saved - the rest would have made us from mildly to violently sick. Not encouraging. However, they did taste good.


One of our fellow-hunters even found a huge piece of porcino to my astonishment as I didn't believe they live in England. Perhaps it didn't taste as good but it looked genuinely porcino. Having abandoned first thoughts of mugging the lucky guy I decided to go back next year and try my luck harder.

Given our scarce loot I decided to prepare a risotto by adding some fresh chestnut mushrooms as well as some dried porcini. And of course my secret weapon, a porcini stock cube!

For 2 lucky people

180g arborio rice (risotto rice or alternatively even long grain rice)
1 garlic clove
half a shallot
50g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 sprig of thyme
100g chestnut mushrooms
a handful of wild mushrooms
a handful of dried porcini
50g Parmesan

Chop the shallot very finely and crush the garlic clove with the palm of your hand. Melt in a large frying pan the butter and add the oil. When they start sizzling add the onion and garlic and let them caramelize slowly. Discard the garlic.

Add the rice and toss it for a few minutes until it has absorbed the butter/oil thoroughly.

Soak the porcini in warm water and once they have expanded chop them into small pieces. Chop also the rest of the mushrooms and cook them in a separate pan with a bit of oil, the discarded garlic clove from the previous pan and the thyme.

Make the stock adding to 500ml of warm water the cube until it dissolves. Add the water to the rice and let it simmer keeping turning so that it doesn't stick to the pan.

Half way through cooking - you need to try the rice to be able to tell that - add the mushrooms and let it cook for a bit longer. If the water has all dried up and the rice is not cooked yet add more warm water.

The rice has to be creamy but not overcooked - the rice should retain a slight crunchiness - what we call al dente (which doesn't mean that it gets stuck in your that would mean it is not cooked!). Once cooked sprinkle the cheese on top and if you want to be extravagant a few drops of truffle oil.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Snacking in Japan

Before our son would have become too mobile and restless my husband and I wisely decided to come up with a list of places we wanted to visit. Japan was one of these. In our minds it has always been a country of many contrasts, a world apart on many things, and a place where old and new not only meet but at times clash and melt.

The contrast between Tokyo and the countryside is remarkable. From over-crowded roads where people run under the light of adverts and neon packed between multi storey buldings the eye go to peaceful countrysides dotted with modest squared houses sorrounded by small gardens. Japanese people don't like to show off, on the contrary, modesty is probably the word that describes them at best in my opinion.

Everyone is very courteous and if stopped on the street for indications they will resort to anything to help you - once a tired after office hours business man questioned its phone, rang his friend, and stopped several passers-by so that we could find our restaurant! However, if their help is not sought, they won't intervene to assist as it would be considered as an intrusion. Interesting.

Culture is of course reflected in food too. Everything is done with care, attention, and beauty underlines everything. We just loved the way food was presented - even the simplest dish would be displayed with love and great attention to details and a mere biscuit would take a colourful and artful look with pretty papers and labels. One almost feels sorry to open it! (....but we did!)

 Snacks are everywhere even though Japanese tend not to eat on the street (or drink). They rather prefer sit down, chop-stick a few bites while sipping a hot tea or cold beer, and then be back on the road again. I wonder whether they eat in the car...something to research next time we go.

A very tasty snack we had one afternoon sitting in the sun with one of the oldest Tokyo temples behind our backs was fried squid and teryaki chicken skewers. The squid was cut into strips, seasoned, and coated in Panko breadcrumbs before being lightly dip fried. The chicken was sauteed in a sauce of dark soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and ginger. The result was exquisite.

Refueled with energy and a smile on our face we could do nothing but simply strolling along roads lined up with cherry trees and brighten up by cheerful girls. But more on sakura or cherry-blossom season on my next post!