So, it’s a mid-week evening, we’re tired and hungry, and it’s time to forage the culinary wasteland that is my kitchen. Yes, it’s another Random Ingredients Challenge!
It doesn’t take long to do an assessment of the fridge. A few chestnut mushrooms. A packet of lardons. About a pint of the lovely vegetable stock I make out of scraps. A bottle of Somerset Orchard Pig Cider lurks in the door where the milk should be. Hmm.
There’s usually a packet of lardons in my fridge somewhere. It’s one of those relatively cheap ingredients that keeps well for emergencies. Like all bacon products, you need to hunt around to find a supply that is good quality and not full of that watery white stuff. I’ve found Sainsburys Taste the Difference British Outdoor Bred/Oak Smoked/Dry Cured is one of the better supermarket offerings. You don’t need much of it to lend some meaty flavour to a dish of vegetables. Unless you’re vegetarian of course. Then you’re stuffed. Mushrooms. Rice. Tricky.
I grab the torch and head off to the vegetable beds to remind myself what’s out there. Now, normally I would not think of picking the Cavolo Nero just yet, letting it grow bigger, taller, grander, with full-on ‘fleur de lys’ leafery. But I had a top-tip Tweeted to me recently from Jennifer, a gardener at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, no less (yes, that’s Raymond Blanc‘s gaff)… She told me that Cavolo Nero is excellent grown as a micro crop. It’s what they do up the Manoir. Well, the thought had never occurred to me! But if it’s good enough for Le Manoir it’s good enough for me… I’m going to try that as soon as I can, planting the seeds close together and keeping it going with successional planting. I do love Cavolo Nero. (And so do the caterpillars, so this seems another good reason to try this grab-it-before-they-do method.)
So, back to the plot. The ones I planted back in the autumn are already past micro. But they’re nowhere near macro either. So I thought ‘what the hell’ and, under cover of darkness, stripped a few plants of their lower leaves. I think they are big enough to endure the shame and carry on as if nothing has happened.
So, on to the recipe 😉
I like to cook risotto with two saucepans on the go. In the left hand one I cook the interesting bits (gently fry the garlic, lardons, mushrooms, then add the stock and a large glass of cider and bring to a simmer), and the right hand one is for preparing and cooking the rice (get it hot and well coated in a little olive oil). As the cooking progresses, I raid the liquid from the ‘interesting’ saucepan, one ladle at a time, to service the thirst of the rice, stirring all the time until all the liquid is sucked up. Then another ladle and so on. By the time all of the liquid has been used up, the interesting ingredients are also cooked, but still retain some shape (rather than all being smashed around in the risotto stirring) and the rice seems to absorb and cook quicker too.
At the end, stir everything together, adding the finely chopped Cavolo Nero (when they are young leaves, that’s stalk and all), and cook for a further 4 or 5 minutes until the leaves have barely cooked and are still bright green. You won’t need salt with lardons, but do add some ground black pepper.
Dish it out, and ta-da! A tasty risotto.
Kale: Cavolo Nero