Summer Vegetable Risotto

At this time of year it’s pure pleasure to cook and taste vegetables that are freshly picked from the garden. One of my favourite dishes is a light risotto –  perfect for an al fresco lunch or as a starter for a dinner party though you’d have to adjust servings accordingly. You can use a variety of summer vegetables such as fresh peas, French beans, courgettes or Swiss chard, either on their own or combined with red pepper or mushrooms. This year I have some particularly early squashes, normally useful as an Autumnal ingredient but which would work well combined with some chard as a nice contrast in colour. Follow the cooking method precisely for good results and I promise you’ll be hooked into creating risotto recipes of your own.

A pick and mix risotto for 2 people

1 onion, finely chopped

knob of butter

½ red pepper (optional)

finely sliced button mushrooms (optional)

Swiss chard, chopped, keep the stalks separately from  the leaves

handful of French beans, chopped into short  lengths if you prefer (optional)

fresh peas (optional)

1 green courgette (optional)

160g risotto rice such as Arborio

2 tbsp Parmesan cheese or to taste

Vegetable stock, about 500ml

glass of dry white wine

Melt the butter in a pan, I use a deep frying pan but you can use a large saucepan instead. Add the chopped onion and red pepper if you use it and fry gently for a few minutes until softened. I add the mushrooms or chopped courgettes now and fry them for another minute or so before adding the rice.

Stir the rice into the onion until it’s coated with butter then pour in the wine. It should sizzle, then stir until most of the wine has been absorbed. Now add a little of the stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat this until the rice is cooked, which should take around 17 minutes.  If necessary, add a little more water if you run out of stock.

If you’re using French beans, they will need a good 10 minutes cooking time to become tender. Fresh peas will only need a few minutes. After about 1o minutes I add the chopped stalks from the chard – they will take a little longer to cook than the leaves which you can add after about 13/14 minutes cooking time. Taste the risotto to test if it is ready. Aim for soft grains of rice and a risotto which is nice and moist. When the rice is cooked, add the Parmesan cheese and stir it into the risotto. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Hunter, gatherer…

My young pea plants were practically grabbing me round the ankles as I walked past. So yesterday evening we wandered into the woods to a recently coppiced area where I knew I could find what I needed. In a previous life, I used to coppice woodland for conservation and had already admired the neat stacks of logs and the long rows of brushwood. It was amongst the brushwood that I found just what I was looking for. I sorted out some twiggy pieces of oak into a couple of bundles and tied the stems together with rafia so we could carry them home.

Thanks to a gift of more than a dozen tomato plants last week, the garden chez nous is now pretty well full. I could squeeze in a row or two of something else where the carrots have failed to germinate, maybe some late spinach or a few radish, but I think I’ll wait for rain. The mixed lettuce are already providing more than we can eat, and I’ve had two mini-cucumbers which are quite fun and just enough to add to the salad bowl.

Raspberries - eat some fresh and save some for the freezer

My favourite of all fruit is the raspberry. Earlier this year we spent a couple of hours sorting out the raspberry canes which had strayed way beyond their allotted place and with neglect on my part, had become more of a bed of nettles and bramble than a raspberry patch. Mulching the base of the row with grass clippings (yes, we did cut the grass a few times before the drought) as advised in a lovely old book on growing fruit by Geoff Hamilton has really paid off by suppressing the weeds and keeping the base from drying out. OK, the berries are a little small but the taste is wonderful and I love hunting along the row for those dark jewels of fruit. I love eating them fresh but they are very easy to freeze. Spread out flat on a plate or tray until frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag and take them out by the handful as a topping for meringues or rich chocolate dessert or to add to an apple crumble.