This is the jam that I made from my amazing Famous Rhubarb Triangle  forced rhubarb.  You can definitely make it with non-celebrity rhubarb, but you won’t get the same dramatic colour. It looks incredible: a translucent, cherry-blossom pink with the tiny black vanilla-seeds throughout.  It is so good that I am contemplating a return trip to the market to buy another couple of kilos of Famous Rhubarb to stock up.  The flavour is complex and very, very, moreish.  It is wonderful on buttered toast, but I think it would also work well as a condiment served with hard sheep’s and goat’s cheeses – a theory that I plan to put to the test at lunch time.

Rhubarb, from the Famous Rhubarb Triangle

The quantities below made 4-and-a-half 250ml pots of preserve.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kilo of rhubarb (famous, if possible)
  • 900g of sugar (I used golden caster sugar)
  • the juice of one orange
  • the juice of one lemon
  • 2-3 vanilla pods, whole

Method:

Wash the rhubarb, trim off the base and the leaves and chop into 2cm pieces.  Place the rhubarb, the sugar, the citrus juices and the vanilla into a large pan and heat very, very gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring the mixture slowly up to the boil and then let it simmer gently, stirring from time to time.  Skim off the foam that rises to the top. After around 15-20 minutes, test for readiness by putting a teaspoon of preserve onto a saucer and placing it in the fridge.  After a few minutes, push the blob of jam with your finger – if a light skin has formed which wrinkles up as you move it, your jam is ready to pot up.  Keep testing at 5 minute intervals until you achieve the desired set.

Remove the preserve from the heat and fish out the vanilla pods.  When they are cool enough to handle, split them and scrape out the seeds.  Stir the seeds into the mixture in the pan.  After around 15 minutes you can safely pot up the preserve into warm, sterilised jars.

Variations:

  • You can of course make rhubarb and ginger jam.  I have to confess that I love ginger in savoury dishes, but I’m really not so keen on it when sweet.  Add a couple of slices of peeled fresh ginger to the jam instead of the vanilla pods. Bet it won’t be as good though!

Famous - nay LEGENDARY - Rhubarb Preserve. With no ginger.

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I’m beginning to think that spring will never arrive.  The weather raises my hopes with a couple of blue-sky days, and then reverts to grey coldness.  I put my gloves back on yesterday, refused to be bowed by the 7-degree drop in temperature and set out to Borough Market to find my own sunshine.

Being obsessed with jams and preserves at present, I am ticking off the weeks until the arrival of the soft-fruit season.  I have Big Jam Plans, but I’m going to need strawberries, apricots, blackcurrants and gooseberries.  However, I definitely require a couple of interim preserving projects to keep me going, so I stalked Borough Market looking for seasonal fruits that would fit the bill.

I could actually feel my heart-rate rise when I spotted the rhubarb: a huge basketful of the first of the year’s forced Yorkshire Rhubarb.  Flaming cerise with strange, acid-green leaves crowning the stalk, forced rhubarb is prized for its colour and its taste.  It’s grown in the dark – and even picked by candle-light- and there is definitely something eery and moonlit about the bizarre colours.  It was described as coming from ‘The Famous Rhubarb Triangle’, which immediately sent my over-excitable imagination into a magical, northern rhubarby land where planes and boats (and probably whippets) disappear without trace.

Back to reality.

I also found some clementines which still had their leaves attached and some more blood oranges, and I have a bowlful of Riverford lemons ready to be used, so more marmalade and other citrus preserves are also on the agenda.

Weather be damned: I will make my own sunshine!

Sunshine in my kitchen


I’m obsessed with asian noodle dishes.  The combination of intense flavours and the fact that you can eat them out of a bowl (and with chopsticks!) makes me happy, happy, happy!   I try to keep miso paste, sesame oil, chinese wine vinegar, good soy sauce and mirin in my cupboards as they are the perfect condiments/seasonings for quick, tasty meals. This is a really easy supper dish, thrown together in 30 minutes, but very satisfying in a stickily-delicious-and-flavoursome way.  Serves 3-4, approx.

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken thigh fillets (do try to use thigh rather than breast – the meat has a much better flavour and texture)
  • 2 aubergines (eggplants to my US friends)

Marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons of dark miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2cm ginger root, grated
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chinese wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 red chilli (seeded and chopped)

Garnish:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 1/2 a lime

Method:

Heat your grill to high.  Slice the aubergines lengthways and cut into strips (about 1cm wide).  Slice your chicken into strips and place in a roasting tin with the aubergine.  Mix the marinade ingredients together into a paste, and then tip onto the chicken and aubergine.  You need to make sure that each morsel has a good coating of marinade, so use your (clean) hands to turn the meat and aubergine and to rub the marinade onto every last surface.

Place the roasting tin under the grill and cook for around 20 – 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through, the aubergines are soft and the marinade has cooked down to a sticky, rich glaze.

Remove from the heat, and sprinkle on the garnish ingredients.  Squeeze over the juice of the lime, stir and serve.  As I mentioned previously, I like to eat this with noodles.  Try soba noodles cooked and then tossed with soy sauce, sesame oil and a dash of wine vinegar.  Steamed greens – spinach, chard or pak choi – would be a good side-dish. No photo I’m afraid , as it was eaten too quickly.


LIght, rich brioche with a swirl of caramelised apples and hazelnuts

I made brioche twice last week and both times I was happily creating by instinct without writing down weights and measures.  I’m baking it again today, and I’m being very strict with myself and ACTUALLY WRITING THE RECIPE UP AS I GO ALONG.  This cake/bread hybrid is an excellent way to use up the egg yolks after making meringues, and is delicious fresh and warm from the oven or toasted for breakfast. It will be great as it is, without the addition of the apples and hazelnuts, or try adding raisins or sultanas that have been soaked in tea for 4-12 hours. I made this using my Kenwood Chef, but I used to successfully make brioche dough by hand before I had one.  It’s a messy process, but a satisfying one.

Ingredients:

Brioche Dough

  • 800g white bread flour
  • 20g fresh yeast
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 450ml warm milk
  • 150g unsalted butter (room temperature, but not too soft)

Apple and Hazelnut Filling

  • 5 firm eating apples peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 100g blanched hazelnuts
  • 100g caster sugar

Method:

Crumble the yeast into the flour and gently rub it in as though making pastry/crumble mix.  Add the sugar and salt and mix well.  Pour the milk and the egg yolks into the dry ingredients and work the mixture until everything is well-blended and there are no lumps.  Now you can start to stretch and knead, either by hand or using a dough-hook in a free-standing mixer.  If working by hand, please note that this dough is very soft/sticky, so it’s probably best to stretch and fold it in the bowl.  Don’t be tempted to add more flour to make the dough easier to work with: you will ruin the texture and end up with brick-like brioche.  The gluten will gradually start to form strands and the mixture will become more supple, stretchy and resistant.  It will start to pull away from your hands and the side of the bowl.  This will take around 8 or so minutes.  Now cut the butter into small pieces and add these to your dough and continue to knead.  The butter will be incorporated into the dough and the mixture will become shiny and smooth.  Set the brioche dough to prove in a cool place, covered with a linen cloth or placed inside a plastic bag.

Silky, golden brioche dough before the first prove

To make the filling, first bash your nuts.  You want a mixture of large and small pieces of hazelnut for texture, so place them between a couple of cloths and bash away with a rolling pin until you have a mixture of biggish chunks and little crumbs.  Place the nuts and the sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan and and heat gently, stirring continuously, until the sugar has melted and started to caramelise. Now toss in the apples, and turn up the heat, still stirring all the time.  The apple juices will be released into the nutty caramel and will cook down to a rich, golden-brown syrup.  Stir and cook until the apples are just starting to soften, by which point they will be golden and coated in the caramel sauce.  Turn out into a bowl and leave to cool.

After the brioche dough has been proving for a couple of hours (it should have roughly doubled in size), turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface.  Gently, gently, gently push it flatter with your finger-tips (no brutal ‘knocking back’ in my kitchen, thank you!). Divide the the mixture into two and gently push and stretch each piece into a rectangle.  I prefer not to use a rolling pin, as it always seems to flatten the life out of my dough.  Spread half of the caramel apple and hazelnut mixture onto each piece, then roll up like swiss-rolls, seal the ends and place each one into a buttered loaf tin, seam-side down.  Alternatively, you can slice your swiss rolls into swirly buns, and place them in a buttered cake tin or roasting tin. Cover, and leave to prove in a cool place for another 90 minutes-2 hours. A slow, cool prove is essential with brioche.  If they get too warm, the butter will melt and run out.

Brioche dough with the filling, ready to be rolled

Heat your oven to 180 degrees.  Brush the risen brioches with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until they are a glossy, rich brown on top.  Carefully turn them out of their tins and leave to cool on a wire rack. Mine are ready just in time for the children coming home from school.

Variations:

  • Add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the caramel mixture for a spicier blend.
  • Replace the apples with pears and the hazelnuts with almonds.
  • Soak 350g of raisins or sultanas in a strong tea of your choice (I recommend assam – nice and malty), drain and fold into the dough at the end of the kneading process.

February's marmalade

Right, I have a number of requests asking for my marmalade recipe.  There are dozens of methods and recipes out there for marmalade, as I discovered when I embarked on the Great Marmalade Challenge.  I found a method that made sense to me, and then (as I always do) I tweaked it a bit, and had fun playing with flavours.  That’s what cooking is about – and I will be very disappointed if you follow this recipe to the letter. The vanilla and the honey really round-out the citrus flavours and will give you a complex and mellow preserve. But do try other spices… or leave them out completely. The basic method is sound – I’ve made it twice now, using different varieties of orange and both times it has set perfectly and had a good sweet/bitter balance.  This amount will make 8-10 medium jars.

Ingredients:

  • 1.2kg of fruit: you need pips! Seville oranges are perfect, because they have lots of pips and pips give you pectin, and pectin is what will help your marmalade to set. If you are using sevilles, make up the fruit from sevilles plus 1 lemon.  If you can’t get sevilles, use 2-3 nicely pippy lemons to give you both the pectin and the bitterness that you need. And please… use organic fruit as the peel of the non-organic citrus fruits is saturated with pesticides.
  • 2 litres of water
  • 1.9kg sugar (I used golden caster sugar, but you can experiment with different sugars.  A small percentage of light demerara will give you a deeper colour and more toffee-ish taste)
  • 100g honey
  • 2 vanilla pods

Method:

Wash your fruit and then use a sharp knife to cut the peel and the pith from the oranges and lemon(s). Reserve the orange peel, but discard the lemon peel.  Throw the flesh of the fruit into a food-processor and whizz it into a smoothish puree.  Press this puree through a fine-mesh sieve, until you have a pulp of mashed-up pith and pips remaining.  Now take  a square of muslin, place the pith/pip mix into this, bundle it up and squeeze some more liquid out.  This is important: you will probably note that this liquid feels a little slimy, and slightly thick.  That’s the good stuff – your pectin.

Pour the pressed juices into a large pan and add the two litres of water.   Cut the vanilla pods in half (horizontally  – you don’t want the seeds in the liquid yet), add to the liquid and bring it all to a gentle simmer.  Whilst this liquid is coming to the boil, you can tackle your peel.  Using a sharp knife, pare away all of the white pith from the peel and then finely shred the peel into match-sticks.  It is important to remove the pith as it does make the marmalade unpleasantly bitter. Let me be honest with you: this bit is long-winded and rather boring.  But it’s strangely satisfying to look at your jars of marmalade afterwards and smugly note that every piece of peel was hand-crafted.  You can afford to feel self-righteous about things like that.

Hand-crafted, artisan peel. Limited edition.

Add the peel to the simmering liquids and let it gently bubble for 40 minutes to an hour.  The peel should be tender, and the mixture will have reduced by between 1/3 and 1/2.  Turn off the heat and add the sugar and honey. Stir, and leave the sugar to dissolve for about an hour.

Whilst the sugars are dissolving, you can sterilise your jars.  I run mine through a hot cycle in the dishwasher, and them place then in the oven at 100 degrees to dry off for around 40 minutes.

Marmalade time! When the sugar has all dissolved, bring the liquid back up to simmering point and let it cook gently for 10-15 minutes.  As it boils, you will notice a froth/scum collecting on the surface.  You need to carefully scoop this off as it rises, otherwise you will not have a clear marmalade.  Try to avoid scooping out the peel. After about 15 minutes, put a spoonful of the marmalade onto a saucer and place it in the fridge. Leave it for 5 minutes or so, and then push the mixture with your finger.  If a skin has formed and it wrinkles when you push it, your marmalade has reached setting point and is ready to jar-up.  If not, let it cook away for another 10 minutes and test again.  I can’t tell you how long it will take for any given batch to reach setting point – it will probably be somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes.  I like a soft, jelly-like set but some people prefer a stiffer, stickier set.  You will be able to see the texture  evolving as you test but essentially the longer you cook it, the firmer the set.

When you are happy with your set, take the pan off the heat.  Now is the time to fish out the vanilla pods, split them and scrape the seeds into the marmalade.  Any sooner, and you would have been scooping off all the light little seeds as you skimmed the froth.  And that would have been heart-breaking.  You can either discard the split pods, or you can pot them up with the marmalade.

Ladle the marmalade into the warm, sterilised jars.  Initially, the peel will float at the top of the pots, but as the marmalade sets, it will disperse throughout. You can eat the marmalade 24 hours after jarring-up, but you are supposed to leave it in a cool dark place for 2 weeks to let the flavours mature.  It should keep well for at least 6 months, but I would recommend storing opened jars in the fridge.

Variations:

  • Blood Orange Marmalade: use blood oranges (plus at least 2 or 3 pippy lemons) for a gorgeous-looking ruby-toned marmalade.
  • Replace the honey with treacle if you like a dark marmalade.
  • Use a cinnamon stick  or a star anise instead of the vanilla for a spicier flavour.

Meringues can be baking heaven… or hell.  There is a world of difference between the jaw-achingly sweet, uniform,  stale-tasting supermarket ‘nest ‘ variety and a slightly blobby  – but delicious – homemade meringue.  I’ve tried various methods to obtain the perfect result.  What I’m looking for, my meringue ideal, is a light and crispy shell with a marshmallowy inside.  I’ve tried different sugars, low ovens over a long cooking period, medium ovens over a short cooking period…. and the results have been reasonable, but still not close enough to Meringue Perfection.

But!  The wait is over.  I have finally achieved Meringue Perfection, and I’m going to share the theory and the practise with you, so that you too can attain Meringue Nirvana.  It’s s lightly longer-winded method, and you really need a free-standing beater (like my beloved Kenwood Chef), but try this once and there will be no meringue recidivism.

The basic theory is: take your egg-whites (any amount – 4 is a good starting point) and weigh them.  Add double the weight of the whites in caster sugar.  Melt the sugar into the egg-whites by warming them gently.  You can do this by placing the egg-whites and sugar in a bowl above a pan of simmering water and stirring until the sugar has dissolved, or you can carefully warm the egg-whites/sugar in a pan over a very, very low heat.  If you decide to heat the egg-whites directly, I would strongly advise stirring the mixture using your (very clean) hand.  By using your hand, you will be able to feel when the pan is getting too hot and it is time to set it aside from the heat for a while, and you will also be able to feel the sugar grains dissolving.  By the time the sugar has melted into the egg-whites, the mixture will be hand-hot, but it will still be possible to stir using your fingers without discomfort.

Now the magic happens!  Place the hot mixture into the bowl of your mixer, click the balloon whisk into place and let it whisk away on maximum speed for about 10-12 minutes.  What happens is a kind of eggy alchemy: the hot, grey-ish, slimy egg-white and sugar mixture transforms into a billowing, glossy, snow-white mound of smooth, sweet deliciousness.  And I am definitely not exaggerating.

At this point, it's difficult to resist grabbing a spoon and eating it straight from the bowl.

Once you have finished gazing in wonder at the beauty of your meringue mixture, heat the oven to 150 degrees, and spoon your meringues out onto parchment-lined baking trays. The size of the meringue is up to you but remember that they will expand slightly in the oven.  Feel free to go all-out and make a pavlova, should you feel inspired.

Put the trays in the oven and then immediately turn the temperature down to 110 degrees, and leave things well alone for 30 minutes.  Depending on the size of your meringues, they will need to cook for between 30 and 45 minutes.  You want them to be dry and firm on the outside, but they should not have browned beyond the merest touch of  pale gold to some of the spiky bits.  When you judge them ready, switch off the oven and leave them inside to cool for a couple of hours.

What you do with them now is up to you: I made an Eton Mess for dessert with some of mine today and the children cheerfully demolished the rest.  If you want to get fancy, you can jazz up the basic meringue mixture in a number of ways.  They will keep well in an airtight container for about a week.

Variations:

Chocolate swirl meringues: loosely stir cooled, melted dark chocolate into the beaten mixture before spooning it out onto the baking sheets.  You want a marbled/streaky appearance, so don’t over-mix it.

Almond meringues: add a couple of drops of Aroma di Amaretto to the beaten mixture, and scatter your meringues with flaked almonds before baking.

Rose and pistachio meringues: add a teaspoon or so of rose-water to the meringue mixture, and sprinkle finely-chopped pistachios over the meringues before baking.

These did not last very long. Meringues are utterly irresistible to my children.


OK, I confess:  Lovely Julie and I got a bit too distracted by the tea, gossip and books, so I haven’t exactly been liveblogging.  So here’s some retrospective blogging instead.  This part of the process is known as the bulk ferment or bulk prove.

We left the sourdough covered at room temperature for about 40 minutes and then we gave it a good stretch and fold. The reasons for doing this are to elongate and distribute the pockets of air which are forming and to firm up the structure of the dough.

To stretch and fold, reach across the bowl away from you, slide both hands under the dough and slowly and gently lift it and stretch it upwards, then gently lower it back into the bowl, folding it two or three times as it flows back in.  Turn the bowl 90 degrees clockwise and do the same again, and again, and again.  If these instructions are confusing, you can find lots of pictoral/video guides by searching on line.  By the time you have completed the 4 stretches, you will notice that the dough feels tighter and keeps more shape. Cover the bowl, leave it for another 40 minutes to an hour and repeat.  Repeat this process over the next 3-4 hours: spend two minutes every 40 mins or so stretching, then leave the dough to do its thing.

By the time the 3-4 hours are up, you will have a slightly stiffer, less fluid dough and there will be visible evidence of the sourdough magic at work, in the form of air-pockets and bubbles. You will see a gentle rise, but will lose some volume every time you stretch.  Don’t expect it to double in size like a commercial yeast dough.

Now, have a cup of tea, or a glass of wine and we’ll move on to shaping and the final prove.

 

x

 

 


Right: firstly, this is very unscientific.  I don’t use weights or measures when I bake bread, but I’ll try to describe it in a way that will make sense and that you can follow.  You need your flour(s), starter , salt, water and a large bowl.

Pour some starter into the bottom of the bowl.  I usually estimate the starter content to be approximately 15-20% of the finished dough.  Now tip in some flour, or combinations of flour.  Lovely Julie and I are making a rye and strong white blend, at about 30% rye to 70% white.  You need a good, strong white: the long fermentation process requires robust gluten to keep the structure and the characteristic sourdough open crumb.  Now add a good glugg of water and start to mix with your hands.  You are looking for a loose, flowing consistency, not a tight traditional dough texture.  Don’t be afraid of the stickiness, this is a sticky dough.  It will be too wet to knead in the traditional manner, so knead instead by pulling and stretching handfuls of dough upwards, and letting them fall off your hands back into the bowl. As you do this, the consistency will get more elastic and slightly less sticky.  Now is the time to adjust water/flour ratio: always aim for too wet rather than too dry.  A little more flour will be incorporated later in the process, and once a dough is too dry, it is very difficult to incorporate more  water.

Keep pulling and stretching until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of bowl and from your hand.  It will keep it’s stickiness, but will have more stretch, elasticity and bounce.  But it will still be loose and sticky.  This process will take about 5-10 minutes.  When finished, the dough will look like this:

Consistency in the bowl - loose and flowing

Stretching the dough. Note the elasticity.

See how the dough is pulling away from the bowl and from my hand

Now add in your salt and incorporate it using the same stretching process.  It is important to include salt as without it, the structure of the loaf will be less stable.  Add salt to taste – I used around two tablespoons in my batch.

You can now pop your bowl into a plastic bag and leave it for 30 to 40 minutes.

We’re having a cup of tea and browsing cookbooks… back soon!

x


My friend Lovely Julie is coming over this afternoon to make sourdough bread with me.  She’s never made sourdough before, and I offered to take her through the process and give her a pot of Pandora (my starter/mother/levain/leaven) to take home with her.  I thought this might be a good opportunity to document the process, so Lovely Julie and I will liveblog each stage as we go along.

Backtracking a little, here’s a short introduction to sourdough which will serve as an explanation as to why you might want to try making your own.

Sourdough uses natural or ‘wild’ yeasts as the leavening agent.  Sourdough cultures can be created at home from scratch simply by allowing a flour and water solution to ferment.  You can then maintain this culture by feeding it, bake with it regularly or occasionally, pass some on to friends etc.  The older it gets, the stronger and more vigorous it becomes and the more complex the flavour it imparts.  My starter is named Pandora (elder warmbreadlet was learning about creation myths at school that week), and has become something of a family pet.  She’s nearly 4 months old, and gets better and better.  It is said that starters take on specific attributes defined by the yeast cultures which are native to a specific geographic region.  San Francisco sourdough, for example, is legendary.  I’ve yet to have any complaints about my West Norwood sourdough, however, so perhaps a less glamorous geographical sourdough may yet claim the spot-light…

Sourdough culture works long and hard on the flour and the gluten.  The resulting loaf has an open, chewy crumb (very different from a spongy commercial yeast bread) and a divinely caramelised crust.  It has a long, slow fermentation process, which makes the loaf very digestible, even for people with gluten-tolerance issues.

Once you have some sourdough baking success, you won’t look back.  The texture, taste and smell of sourdough is unique, and although it’s a long process, and the dough can be tricky to handle, the end result more that repays the effort.  My first loaf of sourdough to me 2 weeks to make – but that included creating the starter from scratch.  These days, with Pandora fired up and at full strength, it’s more like a 6-7 hour process.  But sourdough can be quixotic… capricious… just when you think you’ve got it cracked, you’ll have a bad batch.  Just when you think you’ll never get it right, you’ll bake the perfect loaf.  It’s a challenge, and hand on heart, having baked dozens of loaves, I’m still never 100% confident of the end result.  I think that’s why I like it so much.

So, fingers crossed that today is a good day, and that Pandora is in a benign mood.  I fed her last night, and I’ve fed her again this morning, so she should have plenty of bounce and vigour by lunch time.

Join Lovely Julie and I from about 1pm for a step-by-step sourdough experience.  And if you would like to perpetuate the West Norwood Sourdough Mystique, please just ask for your own pot of Pandora starter.  Bread is for sharing.

x

West Norwood Sourdough Culture

Pandora as a baby - I think she looks a bit like her father


A warming, heartening  supper dish on a cold night.  I usually make my squashes into soup  (poetically described as ‘Autumn Leaf Soup’ by the warmbreadlets), but fancied something a bit gutsier tonight.  Don’t be alarmed by the amount of garlic – it roasts down into sweet, melting gentleness and adds a soft alium undertone to the whole dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium squash (I used a Butternut Squash)
  • 8 cloves of garlic, separated but not peeled
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 400g arborio rice
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 500ml of hot stock (chicken or vegetable, the best you can lay your hands on)
  • 50g butter
  • Olive oil
  • Grated cheese to serve (parmesan, pecorino or a good mature cheddar)

Instructions:

First,  you need to roast the squash and the garlic.  Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Oil the cut halves with olive oil and place cut-side down in a roasting tin.  Bake for 20 minutes at around 180 degrees, and then toss in the unpeeled garlic cloves and bake for another 20 minutes or so.  When it is done, the squash skin will be browned in parts and there will be little resistance if you prod a knife into the flesh.  Set the roasting tin aside and let the squash and garlic cool slightly.

Now make the risotto.  In a wide, heavy pan gently saute the shallots in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until they start to caramelise.  Tip in the rice, and stir gently to coat it with the shallot and oil mixture and heat it through for a couple of minutes.  Pour in the wine and stir as it bubbles and is absorbed by the rice.  Now start adding  the hot stock, a ladleful at a time.  Stir until almost all of the stock has been absorbed before pouring in more.  When you have used around 2/3 of the stock, start scooping in the cooked squash.  It will be really soft, and should simply melt into the risotto, turning it a pale, golden orange colour.  Keep gently and slowly stirring. When all of the squash has been incorporated, cut a slit in each of the cloves of garlic, and squeeze the insides into the pan.  Keep stirring.  Taste the rice: when cooked, it should be soft on the outside, but with a slight crunch to the inside.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you need to add more stock, add more and continue to cook until you reach the desired  consistency.  Err on the side of caution: take the pan off the heat slightly early, as the grains will continue to absorb liquid and cook for a few more minutes.

Let the risotto sit for a about 2-3 minutes and then stir in the butter.  This is optional, but will add richness and depth. Spoon onto plates, or into bowls, and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.  A little bit of chopped fresh parsley would also be good.

Variations:

  • Add toasted pine-nuts or crisped bacon before serving for a crunchy contrast
  • Add the zest of an orange with the squash and sprinkle with chilli flakes before serving

Bon appetit x