Life is a bowl of peaches...
Risotto Milanese is pillar of the Northern Italian cuisine, whose origins are blurred in history and legend. Brought by the Moors and Saracens after they settled in Europe, rice was first introduced in Sicily as early as the 13th century. From there, it spread to the Naples area and later to the Po Valley in northern Italy, where it found the ideal conditions to be grown: flat lands, abundance of water, and humidity - perfect for growing the starchier, shorter grain rice that lent itself so well to slow cooking, and hence risotto.
It was in Milan where the rice met its delicious destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries (hence the similar evolution of paella in Spain), and rice had become a staple. Slow-cooking also dominated the culinary landscape of the region, with Ossobucco a long-held favourite and still today they are more often than not served together.
One of the most famous risotto is no doubt risotto alla Milanese. There is of course a story attached to this, it is Italian after all. The legend has it that origin of this famous dish started as a joke played in the year 1574. The Duomo di Milano, the magnificent Gothic cathedral, was being built, and a young apprentice named Valerius was in charge of staining the decorated glass for the windows. Everybody was teasing him because he appeared to have added saffron to the pigments to obtain a more brilliant colour. Tired of the teasing, he decided to return the joke and added saffron to the rice to be served at his master's wedding. The rice turned out so good that the idea spread immediately throughout the city and became the popular dish we know today.
Who knows if it’s true - it doesn’t matter, risotto all Milanese is a tribute to Valerius and we can only thank him for his mischief which gave us the beautiful subtlety of saffron's flavour with it's zinging yellow colour in a dish of rice.
This short grain rice, arborio being the one we are most familiar with, lends itself to so many glorious flavours and dishes, it is versatile, comforting and carries a little piece of exotic history in each tiny, magical grain. And, should there be any left over (not likely in my house), it can be made into arancini, which can be almost as sublime as the risotto it came from.
If you want to know how to create this dish, seemingly so simple and yet often frustratingly easy to mess up, and eat it as it is meant to be, then we will see you on Friday, at 7pm, at Spike Island Cafe.
What is it about candle light that is so alluring? Is that we all appear ten years younger when lit by the romantic glow of a flame, or that the flickering takes us out of the here and now, making the world appear ethereal and slightly unreal? A welcoming distraction is these disturbing times perhaps.
Candles can also signify the ‘lights going out’, that great fear of all western nations, which is why we scrabble for the last vestiges of fossil fuels; to stop the lights going out. Those who remember the power cuts of the early 70’s will remember evenings of candle light, no doubt from many different perspectives. Mine was that of a child, loving the excitement of the dark, the story telling and the candles at the bedside. My mother knew how to make a massive inconvenience into a fun time, for us kids at least. That this fear of the lights going out is nurtured at the bosom of the fossil fuel companies is never really given the platform it needs, given the fact that it is very clear we have the technology to fuel our entire nation on renewables if we/they so chose.
I was inspired to hold a candlelit dinner by the WWF Earth Hour phenomenon that has become a global tradition. For one hour, on the same day at the same time all over the world people turn the lights off. Some simply turn them off and think about what it’s all about. Some turn them off and use the hour to spread the word, enjoy explore other ways to light the dark, and make it fun.
I am aiming to do the latter of course. Gather groups of friends together, eat delicious, simple food, listen to some great live music, drink nice wine, share discussion and listen to some great sweary poetry - all by candlelight.
Anyone remotely awake knows that we heading for climate disaster unless we/they actually take action now. With the orange fiend in charge in the USA and Mrs. May-i-hold-your-hand here it looks like the path to doom is completely unobstructed. I, like many others, feel a sense of impotence and frustration that we can’t as individuals do anything to change this. Democracy is all very well but it moves at a snail’s pace in comparison to the destruction that these people, once in charge can achieve is a very short time.
So, is holding a dinner by candle light, eating yummy food and drinking nice wine going to make any difference? Is the march in London on the same day going to help keep some kind of unity with Europe? Will the march in support of the NHS stop the awful, seemingly unstoppable move toward privatisation and USA like insurance style health care coming at us? Maybe, maybe not. But what it, and marches and get togethers of all kinds, can do is remind us that we are not alone, that together we are a force, that maybe, one tiny step, one tiny candle at a time we can make change happen. Maybe from there will come ideas, a plan, or many plans, and maybe, just maybe, we can, together turn this ship around. Or at the very least we will have a really brilliant evening with friends.
Words by Liz Haughton
This is a recipe for a chicken soup that Louise Marchionne used to make when she cooked for us at our sister cafe The Folk House Cafe, on Park Street. Lou is a nutritionist and fantastic cook - this soup would always appear this time of year as people began to start sniffling and sneezing (never a good thing in a kitchen) and complaining of the ague (not that anyone knew what that was but it sounded serious and requiring of soup).
It is packed with nutrition - ginger for circulation, garlic as antiseptic and both anti-inflammatory. Miso is fermented soya beans which makes it incredibly good for your gut, and helps give a real depth to the flavour. Chicken broth is good for everything as any good Jewish (Italian, Asian, Any) Mama will tell you, it is simply magic stuff.
Lou could tell you much more and you can now find her behind the counter of the Better Food Company’s deli counter on Whiteladies Road where she produces delicious, fresh salads and beaming ‘Hello Darlings’ for the lucky customers there. She can also be contacted via her website and is available for dietary and nutritional consultations.
Chicken miso soup.
To make chicken stock:
1 roast chicken carcass
2 sticks celery,
3 bay leaves
6 or 7 black peppercorns
5 cloves of garlic
1 large ‘thumb’ of ginger
Put everything in one large pot.
Fill pot with water to cover the carcass. Bring this to almost boiling point then turn right down to lowest flame and simmer for 2-3 hours, with lid loosely over the pot until the last half hour when you can reduce the liquid slightly by removing the lid altogether. Top up water if necessary but don’t dilute it too much..
Note: If you want a clearer cleaner stock then use a raw carcass, if you want a deeper darker stock then use a roasted carcass. For this soup roasted is better for flavour but both equally good nutritionally.
Strain the liquid, holding back the bones etc. The bones can be picked over for meaty bits, then discarded along with everything else.
Put the stock back in the pot and add:
1 small leek and 1 - 2 carrots very finely sliced, or ‘julienned’.
1 handful Arame seaweed – only needs rinsing and rehydrating for 15 or 20 minutes (optional but delicious and nutritious)
2 handfuls finely shredded kale or dark leafy greens.
Heat gently until the vegetables are cooked but still al dente.
Add 2 tablespoons of light Miso, a good splash of Tamari soya sauce and freshly ground black pepper. Taste it. Adjust accordingly.
Place some pre-cooked rice or buckwheat noodles in the bottom of the bowl.
Pour in ladle full of the chicken soup.
Add a few slices of spring onion and some coriander leaves on top.
Eat - it cures everything!
Substitutions and add ons…
You can substitute or almost any greens - broccoli, cabbage, spinach, chard, spring greens, lettuce, pak choi - just be aware of different cooking times. The stock is the most important ingredient - just remember that.
You can also add very finely sliced radish at the end, for some peppery crunch and a bit of colour. Also some micro greens would work very well, now grown right here in Bristol by Grow Bristol (and sold in Better Food) - pretty, delicious and nutritious - astonishing what you get in one tiny leaf! If you want to beef it up (s’cuse the pun) you can add lots more chicken meat - I would shred it.
I would avoid chunky vegetable as they would change the nature of the dish too much. Finely sliced mushrooms are a lovely extra too - it's hard to know where to stop sometimes but once you have made it a few times you will settle on your favourite way, or just get creative with whatever you have to hand, just remember it's all about the stock.
If you want to make it vegetarian/vegan you would need to make your own strong and clear veg stock, using garlic and ginger as in chicken recipe. I would also use dried mushrooms for a bit of oomph, and definitely add some fresh ones at the end. Veg stock will be another post - keep an eye out!
We make our own bread here. Rob has spent many hours nurturing his sourdough mother, coaxing her gently with songs from ancient kitchens from the days of yore, and she has rewarded him with gorgeous, bouncy bread with huge flavour and a lovely crust, as Mary Berry would say. We also buy in delicious organic breads for sandwiches from Hobbs House bakery as they are more consistent in their shapes and sizes, Mother Dough being a little erratic in her design skills.
Bread is a staple here in the UK, and in most of the world in various forms. It’s a wonderful thing in it’s own right but is also often simply a vehicle for other foods (butter mostly, in my case). From flatbreads to bridge rolls, focaccia or doorstep sourdough, what better than bread for dipping into thick, winter warmer soup just long enough for the butter to begin melting…
Given that it's called the stuff of life it's hard when you discover you can't tolerate it, for whatever reason though mostly it’s due to the gluten it contains. Some people see gluten allergies and intolerance as fad, a lifestyle choice and irritation to businesses like ours. Just to be clear, that is not how we see it.
The argument goes that we have eaten bread for millennia, so why the problems now? I think that is exactly the problem, or at least a big part of it. As a nation we eat too much bread, and the bread we eat is the wrong sort of bread.
Modern bread is made from modern wheat that is grown using pesticides, glysophates (think what Roundup can do to your weeds and think about that inside you), in great quantities, especially just before harvesting to hasten the dying or, as we think of it, the ripening process. The wheat is then made into highly processed flour, cleansed of all it’s nutritional values, only to have them replaced with artificial additives. The pesticides remain throughout and gets eaten with the bread, and in whatever minimal quantities it’s still poison. Bread from 1000 years ago, or even a 100 years ago, bears little relation to the stuff you see on the supermarket shelves now. To avoid these toxins in your bread buy organic, or buy organic flour and make your own (see below for how).
That however doesn’t solve the gluten issue. I don’t have the answer but here in the cafe we do try to serve a good choice of gluten free dishes, but really good gluten free bread is the one thing that continues to elude us. Rice cakes don’t really cut it with soup, or oat cakes, nice as they are.
We will continue to experiment and hopefully come up with a perfect loaf one day soon! If you have a good recipe you think we could try then ping it over please!. A mild intolerance can sometimes cope with eating organic, homemade bread, or a really good sourdough. But other than that avoidance really is the key.
Simple Bread Recipe
(taken from the Folk House Cafe Recipe book)
1 kg strong white or wholemeal flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
about 600ml + hand hot water
2 tblsp olive oil (optional)
Combine all dry ingredients in a big bowl. Mix in water and knead into a rough, wet dough. Add the oil and mix well. Make sure you have added enough water for the dough to be quite sticky.
Flour a clean work surface and tip the dough out. Knead it well for 5-10 minutes, depending how cross you are (it’s good therapy), adding more flour as you go to stop it sticking to the surface and your hands (It will inevitably stick to your hands a bit though, so learn to love it).
When the dough is completely blended and you can handle it in one lump, either transfer it into an oiled and floured bread tin (about 24x12cm), or 2 smaller ones. Push the dough down into the tin/s and dust with flour.
Another option is to make rolls by cutting the dough up (it’s easy to slice through with a sharp knife) into equal size balls, bearing in mind it will double in size after proving and baking. Take each ball and smooth the top over with your thumbs, while tucking the raggedy side bits underneath to create a smooth finish on the top. You can glaze these with an egg wash if you want for a lovely shiny shell, or damp them down and add some seeds of your choice, or just dust with flour as with the loaves, placing on an oiled and floured baking tray.
Leave the dough to prove in a warm place for about half an hour, during which time it will double in size. It needs to be covered by a damp, clean cloth to avoid a hard skin forming on the exposed surface.
Bake in the pre heated oven for about 25-40 minutes, depending which size tin or shape you have chosen. When ready the bread should sound hollow when tapped and be golden brown. Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to break some off, cover it with butter and scoff it while still so hot it burns your mouth.
Bristol Life magazine did a lovely piece on the opening of the Better Food Company's third shop, in Wapping Wharf. Phil, who owns BFC, is my brother, as is Barny who is the founder of The Square Food Foundation, cookery school and community kitchen, so all three of us are involved in food one way or another in Bristol. The other seven siblings have proper jobs.
The weather has warmed up, it's finally stopped raining. While many people make a rush for the west at this time of year, plenty of you hard working stalwarts stay in the city. So, just for you here is something to make staying here better... not one, but two artists previewing this Friday 8th July, from 6pm!
In the café we will be slinging drinks and food all evening - come for the art stay for the food, come for the food, stay for the art - your choice, but it's going to be a great party so don't miss out!
Summery, robust Tuscan salad that will take your mouth on holiday.
by Barny Haughton of Square Food Foundation
6 -8 slices of Ciabatta or other robust, chewy, white bread
8 ripe tomatoes
2 large red peppers
2 large yellow peppers
Handful good black olives, pitted
Handful basil leaves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 tables red wine vinegar
Crushed garlic clove
Salt and pepper
A few anchovies (optional)
Tear the bread into bite sized chunks, crust and all, and put in a large bowl.
Scald, peel and quarter the tomatoes, remove pulp and seeds, Reserve, peel, seeds, juice and pulp for the dressing. Add tomato quarters to bread.
Roast the peppers and peel when cool. Add skin and pips to the reserved tomato pulp etc. Slice the pepper into 3 cm strips. Add to bread and tomato.
Add the pitted olives and torn basil leaves.
Make the dressing: salt and pepper into a bowl, strain the juice from the pulp, skin, etc. add the red wine vinegar and crushed garlic clove add olive oil and beat well. Pour this, minus the garlic clove over the salad. Combine well with your hands or a wooden spoon. The dressing should be completely absorbed and the bread should be soaked and pinkish in appearance. Serve at room temperature with a little more olive oil and a scattering of Maldon salt.
A lot of people ask why we choose to use organic ingredients own our food. It costs more, it's usually muddy and quite often you can't tell the difference in the taste .
It is essentially food you can trust, which today can be hard thing to find. So many foods, even fresh products, have additives and residues of pesticides, and it has been proved to be better for you nutritionally.
Not absolutely everything we use is organic, sometimes it's about price, sometimes taste and sometimes because we know and trust the supplier so don't feel the need to see a rubber stamp. But it's always a conscious choice, and if possible organic is always the first.
There is a ton of information out there which I am not going copy and paste here. I go with my my gut (haha) and simply know it's the best for me, you, the farmers and agricultural workers, the animals and the planet as a whole.
In the same way that any decent human wants to make life fairer for workers around the world by buying Fair-trade products, so organic agriculture benefits every person, animal, and cabbage involved.
Yes, I make less money in order to keep the prices affordable, but to me it's worth it and I hope it is to you too.
Want to give it try at home? Click on the picture of the Community Farm veg box.