Truffle and parmesan risotto

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This is not just any old risotto, this is a deliciously indulgent risotto making the best of Italian ingredients so it is perfect for a celebration. Truffles have become more accessible and can be bought in most good supermarkets or specialist food markets. Black truffles are cheaper than their highly prized white counterparts making them ideal for trying truffles for the first time. Truffles are wonderfully earthy and pungent and are best served when they are just warmed through to really bring out the flavours.

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Ingredients- serves 2
Knob of unsalted butter
1 garlic clove- crushed
1 shallot- finely chopped
200g risotto rice- I use carnaroli
60ml dry white wine
600ml hot vegetable stock
50g freshly grated parmesan
20-30g black truffle

1. Take a large pan that is suitable for cooking the risotto in. Heat the pan over a low heat and melt the butter. Gently cook the garlic and shallot until they are softened but not yet catching colour. Add in the rice and stir thoroughly to combine and so the butter coats the rice grains.

2. Pour in the white wine and simmer until reduced by half. Now for the stock! Add a little at a time and wait for the rice to absorb it before adding the next lot. Stir during this part of the process to give a creamy finish.

3. When the rice is cooked but remains al dente (soggy risotto rice is a definite no- no!), remove the pan from the heat. Take the truffle and grate half of if and thinly slice the rest. Stir in the parmesan, grated truffle and a little more butter; allow to the risotto to stand for a moment or two so the truffle warms and releases its flavour. Sometimes truffles come with some truffle juice, if it does then also add this in to boost the flavour even more. Serve immediately in warmed bowls and top the risotto with the sliced truffle.

Truffle and parmesan risotto- pure indulgence!

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Tuscan panzanella salad

From time to time most households have leftover bread that it heading past its best but there’s no need to waste it- that’s where panzanella comes in! Panzanella is a traditional Italian tomato and bread salad that’s full of fresh, seasonal flavours. There is no one panzanella recipe so this is my take on it. I included fried capers to give an added dimension and texture. Anchovies are also added to ramp up the savouriness but you can omit these if you prefer.

For the perfect panzanella the tomatoes you choose are important as you want the freshest available. I have used a combination of smaller heirloom varieties which have become easier to find and add a range of colour. Panzanella makes a great light lunch or it can also be served with simple grilled meats for a more substantial meal. if you have any leftovers, you can simply baked the remaining pieces of bread on a tray in the oven until crisped and then serve with the salad- delicious!

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Ingredients- serves 4
200g open textured bread such as sourdough or ciabatta
500g assorted tomatoes- chopped
1 red onion- sliced
Jarred or fresh red and yellow peppers- finely sliced
6-8 anchovy fillets- finely chopped
2 tbsp capers- drained
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Fresh basil

1. Take your bread of choice and roughly tear it into pieces. Place on a tray and leave for around 20-30 minutes to help dry it out a little. Meanwhile pop the chopped tomatoes, peppers and onion in a colander with a bowl underneath and add salt and pepper. Leave to sit so it draws some moisture out of the tomatoes and softens the peppers.

2. Take a small frying pan and add a small amount of oil over a medium heat. Fry the capers until crispy. Tip the bread, tomatoes and onion into a bowl along with the peppers, anchovies and capers. Drizzle over the vinegar and oil; taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Finish with some freshly torn basil and serve immediately with some simple grilled meat such as chicken if you like.

Panzanella- a sunshine dish to brighten up even a rainy summer’s day!

 

Roasted root and feta ‘panzanella’ with crispy sage

Traditionally panzanella is a Tuscan salad consisting of an abundance of tomatoes and croutons however I have given it a vegetable twist! I have used elements of the traditional method and balanced a selection of root vegetables and herbs to give a fresh finish. Although the addition of feta is not exactly in keeping with the original, I think it adds a sharpness which enhances the sweetness of the vegetables.

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Ingredients- serves 4 as a main
For the vegetables

2 beetroot- peeled and cut into wedges
Half a butternut squash- peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions- peeled and cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
Fresh thyme and sage leaves
3 garlic cloves
3-4 small slices of day old bread- I used seeded sourdough
150g feta

For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp runny honey

1. Start off by making sure all the veegtables are prepped and ready to go! Preheat the oven to 190c/ 160 fan. Take the beetroot wedges and place them in a baking tray, toss in a light coating of olive oil and season. I used smoked salt instead of normal salt as this is my latest fascination but normal is fine. Cook for around 20 minutes.

2. After the beetroot have been started off place the rest of the vegetables in a larger baking tray, mix together all the dressing ingredients and toss. Add in a good helping of fresh thyme springs and nestle the whole (not peeled) garlic cloves in amongst. Roast for around another 20-25 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. When they are ready I fished out the garlic and squeezed it from it papery coating before mixing it through the vegetables to add an extra layer of flavour.

3. While the vegetables are cooking away you can cut the bread into chunks and place of a baking sheet with a light drizzle of olive oil. In the last 5 minutes of the vegetables cooking, place onto the bottom shelf of the oven to crisp and go golden, turning half way. I finished my panzanella with a few sage leaves so this can also be prepared now; simply wash the leaves and pat dry with kitchen towel. Heat a small amount of oil in a small frynig pan and fry the leaves in batches. I used relatively large leaves which took around 30 seconds each side but watch to make sure they don’t burn or discolour. I held the leaves flat in the pan with a fork too. When fried, remove and blot onto kitchen towel.

4. Toss the croutons through the tender, sweet vegetables and pile onto a large serving plate. Finish off by sprinkling little chunks of feta over and adding the crispy sage leaves in top.

Roasted root vegetable and feta panzanella with crispy sage- fresh, vibrant and oh so delicious!

Fiorentina puntalette bake

This is a surefire winner for a midweek feast! You can pick up puntalette, also known as orzo pasta, in most supermarkets or Italian delis now so stock up as you’re sure to make this more than once. I have given you a basic recipe that you can tweak until your heart’s content. Play around with a mix of mushrooms and kale which is delicious!

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Ingredients- serves 4
300g puntalette pasta (rice grain size pasta shapes)
30g butter
30g plain flour
200ml double cream
200ml milk
40g creamy blue cheese- such as dolcelatte (optional)
40g parmesan and extra to finish
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 large banana shallot- sliced
Small punnet of chestnut or white mushrooms
Small pack of baby spinach- washed and dried

1. Grab a large pan and cook the puntalette according to packet instructions until al dente. meanwhile you can make the creamy cheese sauce. Take a medium pan and melt the butter together with the flour and a good pinch of mustard powder (optional). Stir together the milk and cream before gradually mixing into the flour. Keep going until all the milk has been added and then keep stirring until it has thickened. Take the pan off the heat and add the cheese until it has melted through.

2. Take a frying pan and heat a glug of oil. Cook the shallot and garlic for a moment or two before turning up the heat to medium/ high and cooking the mushrooms. You need to cook them quickly so remove any excess natural moisture. When they are softening and catching a little colour, take the pan off the heat and set aside.

3. When the pasta is ready, drain well. I then add the cooked mushrooms and spinach into the cheese sauce before combining with the pasta, just allowing the spinach to wilt a little before adding more. Taste and adjust seasoning. A good crack of black pepper never goes amiss!

4. Pop the pasta into an ovenproof dish and top with more parmesan and the odd dot of blue cheese if you like. Bake for around 30 minutes in a 200c/ 180fan oven until the cheesy topping is golden and bubbly.

Fiorentina pasta bake- a decadent midweek dish that makes a delicious leftover lunch! If you have any left…

Rich wild boar ragu with parmesan polenta and gremolata

Let’s face it,  you just can’t beat a good old ragu! Comforting, rich and warming, it really is the perfect choice for a hearty meal so get cooking. To balance the richness of the ragu I made a gremolata to serve with it to add an extra freshness. Gremolata can be served with a range of meat and fish dishes and is so quick and easy to make so do give it a try.

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Ingredients-serves 4
For the ragu
Vegetable oil
500g wild boar- diced into large chunks
1 large white onion -chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
Small pack of pancetta
1 carrot- finely chopped
2 celery sticks- finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
300ml beef stock
Fresh rosemary and bay leaves

For the polenta 
200g polenta
30g butter
30g freshly grated parmesan

For the gremolata (optional)
Handful fresh flatleaf parsley- finely chopped
1 garlic clove- finely chopped
Zest of a small lemon
Squeeze of lemon juice
Glug of olive oil

1. Get cracking by preheating the oven to 160c/ 140 fan. Take a large casserole pan and heat a good glug of oil over a medium to high heat. Add the chunks of boar and cook to brown them off. You could do this in a couple of batches if needed so you don’t overcrowd the pan and start to boil the meat. When browned, remove the boat and set aside.

2. Next up keep the meat juices in the pan and cook the garlic, onion and pancetta until the onion is softened and the pancetta is turning golden. Pop in the carrot and celery and cook for a further couple of minutes. Stir through the tomato puree and make sure it is all well combined.

3. Add the red wine and reduce by half before the stock and tomatoes go in. So in the herbs and season. Cook in the oven for 3 hours until the boar is tender and simply falls apart. Whilst the ragu is coming you can also make the gremolata if you’re using this by mixing all the ingredients together and cooking in the fridge until you need it.

4. When you’re ready to serve, start off the polenta. Cook it according to packet instructions as it can vary slightly. At the end of cooking take the pan off the heat and stir through the butter and parmesan. Taste and check the seasoning and tweak according to taste. Serve the unctuous ragu on a bed of polent and a small amount of the gremolata on top.

Wild boar ragu with parmesan polenta and a gremolata topping- rich, fresh and oh so satisfying!

English pancetta, radicchio and balsamic laced risotto

This risotto uses an unusual combination of ingredients but it’s a marriage made in heaven; the slightly bitter edge of radicchio, the smoky pancetta and the caramelised finish of the balsamic. I used sliced English pancetta from a Hampshire butchers but use whatever you can get your hands on.

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Ingredients-serves 2
Knob of butter
Olive oil
1 banana shallot- finely diced
1 garlic clove- finely chopped
100g radicchio- shredded
200g arborio rice
600ml chicken stock
4 slices of pancetta diced and 2 cut into thirds
2 tbsp low fat creme fraiche
1 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar- I used a caramelised one
Parmesan to serve

1. Get going by melting a knob of butter and a glug of oil in a wide pan before adding the shallot and garlic. Cook until softened. Next up goes the diced pancetta and cook until nearly crisped.

2. Pop in the rice and stir well so each gratin is coated with the butter. Add the radicchio and a ladleful of stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and stir from time to time, remembering to add in more stock as the rice absorbs each lot.

3. Just before the risotto is ready, heat a frying pan and dry fry the pancetta slices which you have cut into thirds. As the slices turn golden, remove them from the pan and set aside.

4. When your risotto is ready to serve simply take the pan off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche, balsamic, a small amount of extra butter and some of the parmesan and leave to sit covered for a few moments. Pile high onto warmed bowls and top with the crispy slices of pancetta.

Pancetta, radicchio and balsamic laced risotto- a new twist on a classic that you won’t regret!

Light spinach, mushroom and ham tagliatelle

It’s that time of year again when minds turn to lighter meals but without compromising on flavour. This tagliatelle recipe is super speedy and delicious so get reading and rustle this up in under half an hour. I lightened this up by using a low fat creme fraiche but you can substitute this with cream if you prefer. It is also delicious without the ham for a vegetarian version.

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g tagliatelle
1 shallot- finely chopped
1 garlic clove- finely chopped or crushed
8- 10 small chestnut mushrooms- cleaned and sliced
4 slice of Parma ham- sliced into ribbons
2 handfuls of baby leaf spinach- washed and roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp low fat creme fraiche
75g creamy blue cheese such as dolcelatte

1. Start off by bringing a large pan of water up to the boil and cooking the pasta according to the pack instructions. Try and aim for al dente tagliatelle so it won’t go limp and soggy.

2. Take a large frying pan and heat a small amount of oil. Cook the shallot and garlic for a minute before adding in the sliced mushroom for an additional couple of minutes until beginning to turn golden. Add the ham ribbons and cook for another minute.

3. Pop in the spinach and allow to wilt before taking the pan off the heat and stirring through the creme fraiche and blue cheese. You must take it off the heat so the creme fraiche doesn’t split. Season to taste.

4. When the pasta is ready, drain well and add to the frying pan and combine with the sauce. I sometimes finish it off with a small amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese before serving.

A light yet creamy spinach perfect for Spring!