So long since my last update – sorry you were stuck with that badly-exposed brisket for ages. I was in Hamilton over the weekend for the Smokefreerockquest finals and arrived back in Wellington on Sunday afternoon feeling very tired and still a bit blah that I’d missed Tim’s birthday on Saturday. Even though he claimed he didn’t care about birthdays. I really wanted to stumble into bed, but dinner needed sorting and after a weekend of hastily grabbed dinner (specifically: pineapple lumps and a packet of ready salted chips) I didn’t want to get take-out. Tired, uninspired, and with not much in the cupboard, I turned to Nigella’s seminal text How To Eat, feeling instinctively (and maybe a little overdramatically) that it would provide the answer.
Sure ’nuff, after some aimless page-flipping her Pea Risotto stopped me. Rice. Frozen peas. Got them both. Not to mention, Nigella quite often bangs on about the soothingly zen properties of exhaustedly stirring a risotto into starchy submission, which significantly adds to the glamour of making dinner while half asleep.
I didn’t have any of the required parmesan cheese, so instead I added a few strips of lemon zest and a handful of peppery rocket to provide a similar kick. I normally feed my risottos with butter, but with the lack of parmesan I decided instead to use extra virgin olive oil instead and make the whole thing vegan. I’m pretty sure the fact that I met an incredibly good looking vegan on the weekend has nothing to do with it – but who knows what decisions are secretly made by our subconscious.
My subconscious is reminding me that I can’t lie: these photos was taken the next morning before I went to work. Once I’d finished snapping I scraped all the cold rice into an empty Tupperware container and took it to work for lunch. I even placed that pea deliberately on the fork. It’s just that we were watching a documentary when I was making the risotto the night before and the lights were all off – not healthy photography settings. So the next day I recreated our dinner from the leftovers. If my photography can’t be honest, at least I am, right?
This is a very simple dinner but devastatingly good – creamy rice, bright green peas bursting with their pea-flavour (can anyone effectively describe the flavour of a pea? At this stage: not I). Yes, there’s a lot of stirring but think like Nigella and wallow in the romance of it all.
As well as removing the dairy aspect of this risotto, I also made a few other slight tweaks. I had no fresh nutmeg so left it out. Instead of heating up stock, I crumbled in half a porcini stock cube (my favourite, all-purpose flavour) and had a pan of hot water simmering next to the pan of rice. Rather than pureeing the peas I just divided them into two small bowls, mashing one half with a fork while leaving the other plain. I had no vermouth or white wine so went daringly cross-country and splashed in some Sake instead, which worked perfectly – its warm, ricey depth of flavour naturally complementing the rice it was absorbed into. I can’t pretend like I don’t think good carnaroli rice tastes a million times nicer than the bland gluggy Sun Rice arborio from the supermarket but I’m also lucky enough to be in a position to choose between rices (don’t get me wrong – good rice isn’t cheap, but there are other areas I don’t spend my money…so.) You do what works for you.
60g butter (or more! Or olive oil)
150g frozen peas
Approximately 1 litre stock
Freshly grated parmesan
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 small onion or shallot
200g arborio or Carnaroli rice
80mls white wine or vermouth
Melt half the butter in a pan and add the peas, cooking for a couple of minutes. Remove half the peas, and to the pan add about half a cup of stock. Simmer till the peas are very soft, remove and puree along with a tablespoon each of parmesan and butter and a pinch of nutmeg, or if you don’t have the energy, mash roughly with a fork. You should now have an empty pan and two small bowls of peas, one solid, one not.
Finely chop the onion and melt some more butter in the pan. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, till golden and soft. Add the rice and stir “till every grain glistens with the oniony fat” as Nigella says. Pour in your wine – or sake! – and allow it to absorb. Now here comes the commitment. Add a ladleful of hot stock (or hot water if you’ve crumbled in a good stock cube like me) and continue to stir till absorbed. Repeat. And again. And then some more. You can’t rush it, you can’t walk away. Just keep stirring, watching the rice slowly expand and absorb all the liquid. After about ten minutes, return the whole peas to the pan and continue to slowly add hot liquid. When you’re satisfied that it’s done (taste as you go) stir through the pea puree and as much butter or extra virgin olive oil as you want. Divide between two plates and sprinkle with more parmesan if you like, parsley would be good here too.
As I said, this is simple food, but very, very good – soft, dense granules of rice studded with Elphaba-green peas. Very easy to eat curled up in a chair, feeling better about the world with every mouthful. The scent of sake hitting a hot pan is something else – I can almost taste its savoury, buttery aroma just thinking about it. The porcini stock cubes add a subtly earthy flavour and the peas have their green sweetness. And it’s all absorbed by the rice.
The documentary we were watching while I was making this, by the way, was the recent Trinity Roots story Music Is Choice by Sarah Hunter. Trinity Roots have always stirred in the background of my consciousness, but considering they got together, had a lifetime and pulled apart again all before Tim and I even got to Wellington, it’s no wonder we are more familiar with its members’ other more recent incarnations, like Little Bushman. It’s a beautiful doco, and listening to the stories of Warren Maxwell, Riki Gooch and Rio Hemopo, woven together with clips of their music, why, the constant stirring of the risotto felt almost meditative.
Title via: John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance, I know it’s a sorry pun but I’ve got the “I’m tired” card and I’m putting it on the table right here. Plus, you really should give peas a chance. They’re awesome as far as vegetables go.
Spotted a tweet from the mighty DJ Sirvere on Sunday inviting people to share their favourite Jay Z guest spot. Not an expert on this but my mind immediately presented me with his appearance in Mariah Carey’s Heartbreaker. Which then spiralled into hours of unproductive inactivity. Oh sure I blame the tiredness, but I haven’t listened to Mariah in years and with one click of the mouse I was riding the Mariah Carey Love Train all the way through youtube. Highlights included the delicious Can’t Let Go, Honey (Bad Boy Remix) this reminds me of when MTV Europe was briefly on our TVs, One Sweet Day with Boyz II Men (slathers you with emotion like I slather butter on toast) and Thank God I Found You with Nas and Joe. I don’t often like power ballads, and endless impressing upon the listener about how in love they are isn’t usually my thing either but what can I say. Mariah is flawless.
I Aint Mad At Cha by Tupac, from All Eyez On Me. Yesterday was 14 years since Tupac was shot. There’s no right age to have someone take your life…but he was only 25.
So, The Good Fun were the winners of the Smokefreerockquest on Saturday night – check out footage of them performing their song Karaoke for the sell-out crowd. I liked all the finalists in their own way but The Good Fun definitely have an out-of-nowhere zany awesomeness – I hope they go far.
Next time: It’ll be the Grumble Pie that I promised for this time round. Photographed at night right before it was eaten, even. Also, right now: Happy birthday, Mum! You rule.