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sun dried tomato

Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe


Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe


Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts 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.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts


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.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

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.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

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.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts


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

500g passata

250g pearled spelt (or farro)

750ml boiling water

3 tsp vegetable stock

80g toasted pine nuts

1 tsp lemon juice

100g feta

Handful of coriander, to serve

(Serves 4)



  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. To serve, crumble the feta over the top and scatter with coriander.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts



Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style

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Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style


focaccia2 (2) It started in exam term in my first year when everyone’s eyes were bloodshot and their eyelids quivering with panic and fear. The cool, white-lit aisles of M&S became a solace – I didn’t even need to buy anything. Drawn inexorably to my oasis, my first trip one day led me to a jar of red pepper pesto. I plunged a spoon into the glistening depths as soon as I made it back to my room, and in the grip of revision lunacy, it made sense to finish the jar - straight, without any interfering bread or cracker-like vehicle, and as fast as possible. It was savoury and creamy, but when the jar was empty and I stopped to analyse what I had just consumed, it was clear to me that the pesto was way too oily. I began to experiment with my own version, and I concluded that adding oil is entirely unnecessary. I think my version tastes fresh, summery, and light, with a hint of smokiness from the char grilled peppers. You can, of course, grill your own, but there are ready-made grilled peppers in jars that are remarkably good. It is incredibly easy to make: just one step, especially if you’re not going to the trouble of grilling your own peppers. It’s also versatile, and can be swirled into soups, couscous, quinoa, salads and pasta, and can be used as a mezze dip.

red pepper pesto The Mediterranean focaccia sandwich is the perfect platform for the red pepper pesto – it expands and rounds out the flavours of the filling ingredients, adding depth to the sandwich.

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Of course, freshly baked, homemade bread is a superior breed to most shop-bought equivalents, and really isn’t difficult to make. It’s not even time-consuming as it gets on with its own activities while you get on with yours. A little bit of punching down (of the dough) now and then is really not that onerous, and the smell of baking bread is well-documented.

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You can fill it with whatever Mediterranean, or indeed other, ingredients you wish.

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I loaded mine with roasted tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and torn basil, and of course the red pepper pesto. This is not just a sandwich…this is a meal.


Red pepper pesto


10g garlic (4 cloves) peeled and crushed 40g pine nuts 40g basil (leaves & stalks) 40g parmesan, grated 3 roasted red peppers from a jar (200g) 2 tbsp sun dried tomato paste 1 tsp lemon juice ¼ tsp salt


In a blender, whizz all the pesto ingredients together until combined but there is still some texture.


Focaccia (Adapted from Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook)



500g strong white bread flour 330ml room temperature water 50ml extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp salt 1 tsp caster sugar 10g fresh yeast or 5g dried active yeast 45g clear honey Extra oil and flour for greasing and dusting tin


150ml olive oil 8 garlic cloves, crushed 3 sprigs fresh rosemary ½ tsp salt

1 tin 5cm x 24cm x 34cm, lined with baking parchment


1. If using fresh yeast, cream it together with caster sugar in a bowl. It should turn creamy. If using dry yeast, add it in with rest of ingredients. 2. Sift flour into bowl of stand mixer fixed with dough hook attachment. Add rest of ingredients including the yeast. 3. Knead on slow speed for approximately 8 minutes, until dough is smooth, soft and springy. 4. Swirl the dough in an oiled bowl until coated. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place. 5. In the meantime, make the topping by mixing the oil with the salt and garlic, and allow it to steep. 6. After 45 minutes of rising, knock the dough down and cover it again with cling film. 7. Leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down, and leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down again. 8. Leave it to rise for a further 45 minutes, then stretch the dough to fit the tin and make dimples in the dough with your forefinger. Paint the dough with the garlic-infused oil, and sprinkle with rosemary needles. 9. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Leave the dough to rise for 20 minutes. 10. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until golden and the bread is soft and springy. Remove the bread from the tin to check that the base of the bread is crisp and golden. If it isn’t, bake for a further five minutes or so. 11. Once the bread is baked, paint it again with the remainder of the garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 12. Place on wire rack to cool, or serve immediately.


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