Monday, 4 August 2014

A Taste of the Country

Risotto Rustico con Cavolo Rapa & Lenticchie Rosse
Rustic Risotto with Kohlrabi & Red Lentils

Sensible, down-to-earth and healthy food- that is what Italian cuisine is all about to me. It isn't the rich and more elaborate plates like lasagne and pasta al forno, the rich sauces or the more elaborate dishes that we are all used to seeing at any and every Italian restaurant... it is the simple dishes that a housewife, a farmer, and old grandmother might make on any given day of the week. This is the real thing.

A simple bowl of vegetables and rice, full of flavor, full of goodness and with everything you need to be happy and healthy. Dare I ask... what's not to love? 

So, before we get started, let me tell you that this is not one of those classic risotti you may be accustomed to, the kind where you add a rich stock to your rice as it cooks, be it beef. chicken, vegetable or fish. Nope- in this dish, the flavors for the stock and indeed the dish itself cook right into the rice as the stock develops out of the vegetables... makes sense to me! Why only use the stock when you can have the vegetables in there too?


Here are the ingredients for one awesome, good bowl of vegetable risotto: 1 small kohlrabi or turnip, 1 small carrot, a half stick of celery, 1 shallot or small onion, 1 cupful of risotto rice, 1/2 cupful red lentils and a few tender celery leaves to garnish.

My main motivation for making this dish, apart from the fact that it simply tastes great, was to illustrate the fact that you do not need to use soup cubes or store-bought stocks to make tasty food. We are so conditioned to those extreme and artificial flavors that we have forgotten just how good the natural taste of a light vegetable stock is. So... it's time to rediscover!


Preparation is simple... everything gets finely diced- and an optional idea is to add the leaves and stalks of the kohlrabi or turnip, which is what I did. Obviously, I peeled the kohlrabi before dicing it... but otherwise- waste not, want not! It is all good flavor and vitamins!


Nothing could be easier- just add all of the ingredients into a saucepan- or frying pan as I did, with a good pat of butter and get everything nicely coated. I prefer to use the frying pan when making just 1-2 portions, as the larger surface area makes for a slightly shorter cooking time- but whatever works best for the quantity you are making is fine of course!


Bring yourself a kettle full of water to the boil in the meantime, whilst you are sweating the vegetables and rice down in the butter, so that you will be ready to go as soon as everything looks as nice and shiny as this.

Add enough boiling water to cover the ingredients, season with salt and pepper and reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally and keeping your eye on how much liquid the vegetables and rice are absorbing. Keep adding water and stirring as you go, but don't obsess over it! it won't stick unless you do something silly like get caught up in a phone conversation... so, don't! 


Depending on your rice, it will take between 30-40 minutes until everything is done. In that time, the vegetables will be soft and tender and will have given all of their flavor into the broth- which of course has all been absorbed into the rice. The lentils will have slightly over-cooked and that will make the broth richer and creamier- and they give a great, nutty flavor... which of course really comes to life when you add a nice drizzle of olive oil before serving!

Stir the oil in well and serve with some freshly ground pepper and a few of the tender celery leaves for a blast of rich, fresh flavor! Terrific!


It's enough to make you dream of sitting in a farm out in the country...

This is what I call comfort food! Buon appetito!

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