Saturday 29 August 2015

Comfort food for cold toes. Saffron risotto with silky baked eggplant and thyme mushrooms.

I came home on Thursday night from work with a brain that felt fried and an appetite for home-cooked comfort food. I watched a storm roll in from our bedroom window that turned the skies black in almost an instant, waiting in hope for the fireworks of lightening to start. I love a good storm. The blinds were swaying from the welcoming breeze and my toes were freezing. Arthur however, couldn't decide if he wanted to catch the blind cord which was knocking against the window edge or start biting my ankles for dinner. Yes my cat bites my ankles if I don't feed him quick enough, it's a serious case of hanger. Must take after his mother.

Saffron risotto with baked eggplant and mushrooms | salt sugar and i

With a crisper full of veggies for more then two people can possible eat before the next weekly veggie box delivery and a brain that can't think past the saffron risotto my parents made, I knew that sitting and watching the storm was not going to get me dinner. I was thinking baked eggplant (like this), saffron risotto that I used to eat growing up (I called it yellow rice) and thyme and garlic mushrooms that always went will the yellow rice.

After I fed Arthur his nibbles to save my ankles I roughly halved and quartered a bag of button mushrooms and threw them in a lined baking tray along with a huge clove of roughly chopped garlic, some fresh thyme leaves that have been floating around the fridge for a couple of weeks but are surprisingly still green and a generous grinding of salt and pepper. I halved a medium sized eggplant and rubbed the cut side with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, chilli, lemon zest, salt and pepper and placed it cut side down on the baking tray nestled in between the mushrooms. Bunged it all in a preheated (180C) oven and forgot about it for 30 minutes while I cooked the saffron risotto.

Kitchen | salt sugar and i

I feel I'm in good hands when a recipe starts with cooking onion and garlic until it's soft and fragrant, I don't know what it is about the smell but it promises a good meal and gets the hunger rolling (if it hasn't already started). I can have just started cooking dinner and only have the garlic and onion cooking in a pan when Tristan walks in saying 'Yes! it's out apartment that the smell is coming from!' then proceeded to snack on whatever is edible on the chopping board as swipe his hand out of the way.

This risotto starts with finely diced onion, celery and a clove of crushed garlic sweated down in some olive oil until translucent and shiny. I then add the rice and cook for a minute or so until I hear a sizzle then pour two generous glasses of white wine, one for the pot and one for me. Once the wine cooked away I gradually added in the stock and a teaspoon of veggie stock powder (I know, don't turn your noses up. It won't taste like the one from my childhood if I leave this step out - stock cubes were the only stock I knew growing up) stirring pretty much the whole time. In a small ramekin I soaked a pinch of saffron threads in some freshly boiled water from the kettle and let it sit for about 10 minutes until it becomes a vibrant yellow. The saffron water went into the rice, tasted, seasoned then turned the heat off. Added a couple of knobs of butter, a large handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese and let sit for about 5 minutes with the lid on so it went all oozing, buttery and delicious.

Saffron risotto with baked eggplant and mushrooms | salt sugar and i

Everything came together at about the same time. The eggplant was a revelation. It had turned silky and just melted away from its skin when scooped out and it had soaked up all the flavours of the garlic, chilli, olive oil and lemon zest perfectly. The mushrooms were better baked then pan-fried like I normally do them, it was like their flavours intensified and they were more mushroomy if that makes sense. I served the scooped eggplant flesh along side the baked mushrooms and saffron risotto, a perfect meal when craving comfort food with cold toes.

To my disappointment the storm passed with not a single drop of rain over head or a flash of lightening, as quick as it came, it went.

Saffron risotto with silky baked eggplant and thyme mushrooms.

serves 3

For the mushrooms:
300g button mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

For the eggplant:
1 medium eggplant, halved lengthways
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
salt & pepper
sprinkling of lemon zest

For the risotto:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 stick celery, finely diced
1.5 cups arborio rice
1 regular wine glass of white wine
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon veggie stock power (or stock cube)
pinch saffron threads 
salt & pepper
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

- Preheat your oven to 180C.

For the mushrooms:
- Toss all ingredients together and scatter into a lined baking tray large enough to fit the eggplant in as well.

For the eggplant:
- In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, chilli and a generous grinding of salt and pepper.

- Rub this all over the cut side of the eggplant and a sprinkling of lemon zest as well. The eggplant will soak up the olive oil which is what will make it go silky as it cooks. Place cut side down in the same baking tray you put the mushrooms and place in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, for the risotto:
- In a medium sized pot, heat olive oil over a moderate to low flame and fry the onion, garlic, celery and 1/2 teaspoons fine table salt for about 5-8 minutes, until the onions are translucent but haven't coloured.

- Meanwhile, soak you saffron threads in about 1/3 cup of freshly boiled water and set aside for about 10 minutes or until the water becomes a vibrant yellow then add it to your rice.

- Next add your rice to the onions and garlic, stirring constantly until it you hear a sizzle, about a min or two. Then pour in your wine, once that had been all soaked up add 1/2 cup of stock and stock powder, give it a good stir then let the rice soak up all the liquid before adding another 1/2 cup of stock. Keep adding the stock like this on a low simmer, stirring after each addition until all the stock has been added. If you haven't added your saffron threads and water, add them now and give it a good stir so the yellow colour goes through the whole dish.

- Taste and check the rice still has a tiny bite left in it. You don't want a soggy mess, you want the rice to hold its shape and still have a tiny dot of white in each grain when bitten in half. Season with extra salt if you think it needs it then turn the heat off and add 3/4 of you parmesan cheese and the butter. Stir it through then clamp on a lid and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

- Everything should have come together roughly about he same time. If your eggplant and mushrooms are done a little earlier then turn the oven off and let them hangout there. Scoop out the eggplant flesh and serve along side the mushrooms and saffron risotto. A sprinkle of cracked black pepper and some more parmesan cheese on top and you're ready to dig in.

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