One (sweet) potato, two potato…

Short and sweet post this time, to reflect short and sweet midweek cooking. Or it should be…

I was caught in the dilemma of what to do with the roasted sweet potato taking up space in the fridge. It’s an age-old dilemma: risotto or soup. What clinched it is that I have no room in my freezer for leftover soup. I always need to put leftover soup in the freezer when I make it as, for some unknown reason, I don’t have a tolerance for eating the same soup over and over again during its fridge shelf-life that I seem to have with solid food. On the plus side, this means one drawer of my freezer is full of tasty home-made soups of lots of different flavours (at the moment, from memory, borscht, minestrone, spicy parsnip, cauliflower & broccoli). But no spare room means it has to be risotto.

I used to make risotto as a teenager on my days to cook the dinner. I don’t remember my risottos then being particularly impressive. I’ve been trying to remember the method I used, but I’m not sure it was particularly methodical.

Then, a couple of years ago I think, I watched Economy Gastronomy on tv and enjoyed the principles so much I bought the spin-off book. As a veggie, there are relatively few recipes in there that I would use, but one of them is the butternut squash risotto recipe. Since then, I’ve cooked it (or rather variations on it) so often that I’ve long since stopped looking at the recipe. It’s given me a method for risotto that is pretty infallible. Only a few changes to the basic method in the book:

  • I don’t use butter, either to fry the onions at the beginning or added at the end, as using groundnut oil instead isn’t noticeable in the taste, and adding fat right at the end just isn’t necessary.
  • I do add a chunk of parmesan (usually some leftover rind) just after the rice. It seems to add a certain something to the flavour, and can be fished out at the end if it hasn’t melted away.
  • I use my own home-made vegetable stock, rather than stock cubes, and then season to taste at the end. I can’t remember what the recipe says about stock, but I’m sure it makes a positive difference to taste, in addition to the fact that stock cubes are far too salty for my taste.

I used to laugh when cookery programmes said home-made stock tastes better than shop-bought, but they’re not wrong and it extracts a lot of flavour from unloved veg that would otherwise go to waste.

Vegetable Stock

I use my slow cooker, but a saucepan on a low heat for an hour will do just as well, so long as you’re close enough to hear if it boils over.

During the week, I put any odds and ends from chopping veg (eg the tops and bottoms of onions and leeks) into tupperware in the fridge. At the weekend, I chop up these ends, together with any other past-it or unused veg (wrinkly is fine, cut off any mould, and scrub away any dirt), together with a garlic clove and a bit of ginger (no need to peel), add water to the top of the saucepan/cooker and simmer.

I’m told brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) make an unpleasant smell, so I’ve never added them, but any other veg is fine. I’ve even been known to add an elderly apple.

When the time is up, leave to cool, separate the veg from the liquid, putting the latter through a sieve into an empty wine bottle (with screwtop lid) and pop in the fridge. You could concentrate it down further, but I rarely feel the need. For a lot of recipes (including risottos) you want the volume, but I can see the concentrate may be useful for, say, adding to tomato sauce to add complexity of flavour.

If you still can’t bear to throw away the veg you’ve used (or use it for composting), you can blend it, put into empty yogurt pots and freeze. Once defrosted, one yogurt pot added to a pasta tomato sauce will thicken it up a bit. I’m sure there’s lots of other things a yogurt pot could help with, but I live on my own, so one week’s stock veg in pots will last me for months.

Sweet Potato Risotto

Back to the risotto. If I’d thought about it beforehand, I wouldn’t have used the whole potato for this recipe, as it was a monster, and I ended up with a risotto that was more “would you like a few grains of rice with your sweet potato” rather than vice versa. But I’d chopped it all up before I realised and – at the end of the day – what does it matter?

I added a couple of baby peppers to the onion, and a beef tomato with the sweet potato, which improved the range of colours. Strictly speaking, the range of shades of one colour, but you know what I mean. See for yourself.

risotto may 2011

Ok, you can’t really see, so you’ll have to trust me. Not that short a post after all…

Book I’m reading at the moment – I suddenly had an urge to read They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie, so I shall go back to The Rogue afterwards.

Honourable Film MentionOndine. You can’t go too far wrong with a Neil Jordan film, and I didn’t even recognise Dervla Kirwan the first three times she was onscreen, which is testament to her performance. Good stuff.

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