I wanted chocolate. I wanted peanuts. I wanted caramel. And so came together three revered ingredients to make this simple but deeply luscious dessert. I admit to a glimmer of inspiration from the Season 11 contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, the drag queen with the moniker Silky Nutmeg Ganache. But apart from that, I attribute this recipe to greed.
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This is my favourite meal and has been since I was three – the precocious (and pretentious, no doubt) answer to my friends’ parents’ question as to my favourite food. Apart from the fact that there really isn’t anything fancy about it, it’s crazily simple to make. Despite being pastry-based and with a molten bed of mozzarella, it is very light, and perfect for a gathering.
We were plunged into the depths of the most labyrinthine of Moroccan souks with a texturally titillating starter of spiced chickpeas, roast Chantenay carrots flecked with crunchy pomegranate gems and creamy curd. It was not a long journey thence to the Welsh influenced Moroccan tagine, a sublime encounter with meat (possibly reared by one of the dinner guests himself) rendered almost molten after a three hour simmer.
Then, tossed on the tides of wine dark seas, we were carried away. We hugged the North African coast for as long as we could, before migrating across the undulating hills and majestic mountains to Southern Italy for a Marsala-imbued tiramisu. The brawn (in the muscular sense, not gelatinous pig's head) evident in the hand- whipped mascarpone elevated the dish further - quite unreplicable by any kitchen machinery. The plank of cheeses that had, tantalisingly, been perfuming the room, was brought before us, where the Mont D'Or led to much fantasising about entire rooms plastered with its moreish viscosity.
It is a great shame that the refried beans from the last visit failed to make an appearance. I can only assume that this was a conscious decision in order to allow a full coverage of fur to develop before extricating them from the fridge for medicinal use or a kimchi style delicacy.
Each guest launched him/herself into a dulcet kazoo cacophony. Renditions of Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl and Amy Winehouse’s Rehab were boldly modernised and subtly nuanced. Unfortunately, mastering the kazoo did not come as naturally to some as to others, and attempts to challenge the traditional method of kazooing included pursing one’s lips in flautist style, blowing from the other end, and, from one unlikely crystal meth abuser, filling the hollow with water in bong style.
Post dinner, we journeyed further north and, interestingly, back in time to the Iron Age, where the Hootenanny, famed for its reggae and hip hop nights, was facing a hairy invasion of retired Celtic warriors. In a show of true masculinity, clothing was scarce and moobs were on full show, quivering brawnily (the gelatinous pig’s head kind, not the muscular) along to the stirring beats of the three competing drummers. Caught in their own time loop, and not ashamed to recognise they were on to a good thing, they singled out the crowd's favourite 12 minute song and played it on repeat for the entire evening.
The journey ended here for the adventurers to rest and recover before the next leg of the journey, even further north.
NB: Photos are for visual stimulation only and are in no way related to the feast.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
In MasterChef Australia (I’m not a fan of the British version) risotto is known as the “death dish”. The judges groan whenever a contestant confesses that he/she will be serving it. And quite rightly so, as the results are invariably sludgy, glutinous, crunchy, solid, watery, bland, or resembling something a woman in Ancient Rome might have used as a face pack.
It is often also the go-to dish for restaurants under pressure to include a vegetarian dish in their repertoire, and this is often disappointing, too, for two reasons:
1.) All too often it becomes a stodgy double cream and rice porridge. In a traditional risotto recipe there is no cream – the creaminess is achieved through breaking down the starch by stirring the grains with a good quality stock. And no, this isn’t difficult at all. Don’t believe the hype surrounding the pitfalls; it is really a very simple dish to perfect.
2.) In some unwritten chef rulebook there exists the heinous concept that risotto can only be married to butternut squash or mushrooms. It’s not that I dislike either of these, but that I’m just crying out for some more original combination.
Risotto doesn’t have to be made with rice either. I use spelt (or farro) instead for numerous reasons: it has a lower GI, has a nuttier flavour, and has a more interesting texture. It’s also a hundred times easier to cook well. Obviously, it isn’t strictly ‘risotto’, but the idea is similar.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter (15g)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
25g (about 8 cloves) garlic, crushed
2 tbsp sundried tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)
½ tsp chilli flakes
Grated zest of ½ lemon
¾ tsp smoked paprika
250g pearled spelt (or farro)
750ml boiling water
3 tsp vegetable stock
80g toasted pine nuts
1 tsp lemon juice
Handful of coriander, to serve
- In a large pot, melt together the butter and oil. Add in the finely chopped onions and garlic, and cook over medium/high heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
- Stir in the sundried tomato paste, sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, chilli flakes, lemon zest, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook ingredients together for a couple of minutes.
- In a bowl, dissolve the stock in the boiling water, then pour roughly 250ml of this, together with the passata and spelt into the pot, and stir together on a medium heat.
- Stir every now then to prevent the spelt from sticking, and add the rest of the water, a ladleful at a time, at roughly 10 minute intervals.
- After 40-50 minutes, remove from the heat, stir in toasted pine nuts and lemon juice and season according to taste. The spelt grains should be soft all the way through with no chalkiness, and with some texture remaining. Most of the water should have been absorbed or evaporated so the consistency is thicker than that of a soup, without being solid, and not thin enough to pour.
- To serve, crumble the feta over the top and scatter with coriander.