This week I have been dabbling with the ancient grain and what fun it’s been too! Inspiration hit last weekend when I was treated to a delicious meal by my ever-generous step mum and dad. We had a fabulous time visiting my brother and his girlfriend in Newcastle, which kicked off by said meal on Friday night. I finally got my first taste of a crispy pig’s ear (which I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t just pork crackling: not a wiry hair or bulging vein in sight…tasted like chicken) and also indulged in a cheeky taste of spelt risotto. It wasn’t my course, hence the reason it was just a ‘taste’, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have chosen it because it sounds far too virtuous for a ‘meal out’ – how wrong I was.
Spelt grain, if you’re not familiar, is an ancient species of wheat and has become increasingly popular in recent years largely due to its nutritional value and high fibre and protein content. It’s easy to find in health food stores, so that should give you a clue.
According to Wikipedia the grain has a long and complex history, which is reason enough not to go there in my opinion. Suffice to say it’s healthy and sustaining and – I’m happy to report – tasty too!
Basically, it’s just nice to introduce another weapon in your carbohydrate armoury to mix things up at meal times. We’re all up to speed with other grains – pretty keen on cous cous, basking in bulgur wheat, capable with quinoa…I could go on (you’d get bored before I would) – and super spelt is just another saucey little alternative to the ‘rice or pasta?’ question.
This post should probably carry a ‘healthy’ warning – and if I was techy enough I’d insert a little pop-up alarm with a flashing light to alert you to this fact. I can only apologise, instead, for the appalling lack of fat and sugar in this recipe, but what it lacks in ‘naughtiness’ it makes up for in taste.
I hesitate to use the name ‘risotto’ for fear of offending my huge Italian audience (hehe) or just being incorrect because this really doesn’t produce the same creamy consistency that comes from the starchy arborio rice. I obediently followed the pack instructions to rinse the grain thoroughly before using, which softened it up considerably and probably lessened the cooking time as a result. Maybe this also rids it of the necessary creamy element, but I enjoyed it this way. It not only tastes good, but it really makes you feel good too. It is satisfying, comforting and nurturing in one tasty hit. Worth a shot, right?
Oh, anyway the reason for legitimately calling it a risotto is that EVERYONE else does! It seems there are recipes galore for ‘spelt risotto’ on the Internet – either that, or lots of people just ask google how to spell risotto…no, I didn’t think so.
I wanted to lighten the ingredients up a bit, so decided to use squid as the main protein (with just a little chorizo as a spiky flavour accent) so needed to keep it zesty and well balanced. I marinated the squid in sumac and paprika, for tartness and warmth and popped in a good handful of currants for sweetness. I used spring onions and leeks, rather than onions, again, as a lighter touch, and finished with irony kale and toasted pine nuts. Husband gave an enthusiastic nod of approval (un-prompted, I might add), which proves without a doubt that it’s a good dish: A good option for tummy and taste buds alike. (Sorry, I never use the word ‘tummy’ but I’m totally onboard the alliteration train today…you may have noticed).
- 200g organic pearled spelt
- 700 ml chicken stock
- 2 tsps of bouillon powder
- 1 large leek, cleaned and finely sliced
- 8 small squid, cleaned and sliced into thick rings
- Kale – enough for two portions – washed and chopped
- Approx. 15cm length of chorizo, with membrane removed and finely cubed
- 5-8 spring onions, depending on size (they vary such a lot), cleaned and finely sliced
- l large handful of currants, softened in hot water or chicken stock
- 1 large handful of toasted pine nuts
- 2 tbsps crème fraiche
- 2 tsps sumac
- 2 tsps paprika
- Salt and Pepper
- Chopped mint and parsley to finish
Rinse the squid thoroughly, then dry on some kitchen towel and slice into thick rings. Place in a wide shallow dish and sprinkle with the sumac and paprika and also a few grinds of fresh pepper. Stir through then leave to one side.
Place the spelt grains in a bowl and cover with water. Swirl the grains round a few times then tip the water away. Repeat until the water is practically clear and the grains are soft.
Now make the risotto as you would a normal risotto.
Warm the chicken stock and 1 tsp of bouillon powder in a saucepan next to your risotto pan and keep it on a low flame.
In your risotto pan, soften the leeks in some olive oil, then add the spelt grains to the pan. Stir briefly before adding a ladleful of hot stock. Stir until all the stock is absorbed by the grains, then continue until all the stock is incorporated.
While this is happening, turn your oven on to its lowest setting; this is to keep the cooked kale warm while the squid is cooked.
Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan, then add the white parts of the spring onions, along with the cubed chorizo. Fry for about 1 minute then add the kale.
Stir until wilted, then add a tsp of bouillon powder and a dash of water if the pan is too dry. It won’t take long to cook – in fact it’s best to undercook it slightly, as it will continue to cook in the low oven. Transfer to a warm dish and pop in the oven.
Keep an eye on the risotto – keep stirring and adding the stock little by little. You don’t have to stir constantly, just regularly.
When you are happy with the taste and consistency of the risotto, add the currants and crème fraiche. Keep tasting it and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
Using the same wok that you cooked the kale in, give it a quick wipe then add a little flavourless oil and turn the heat up high.
Season the squid with salt and give it a stir just before cooking.
When the oil is very hot add the squid and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, no more. It should be charred but soft and yielding.
Assemble your risotto in a deep plate or wide bowl, by adding a large ladleful in the middle then topping with the kale and chorizo and finally the squid. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, herbs and green tops of spring onion. A drizzle of olive oil wouldn’t hurt either.
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