My sisters bought me Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty for my birthday this year and I finally cooked from it last week. Plenty is a compilation of the most delightful recipes, which happen to not include meat. In the book’s introduction, Ottolenghi makes the point that he is not vegetarian, but the drive behind his vegetarian interest is the increased availability of old and new vegetables, and the ethical growing and sourcing of them.
This has given birth to an array of unique and delightful recipes which appeal to both carnivorous and herbivorous palates, without seeming to lack in “meat”. The deep and interesting flavour and texture combinations are also highly influenced by his European upbringing in the Middle East. A mingling of cultures that has clearly brought forth amazing results.
Well, it was finally time to try cooking from this cook book. And last week provided the perfect occasion. I’d invited a friend over for lunch, but only remembered days prior, that my friend’s father was a Parisian chef. No pressure! I had to find a dish to impress. And it had to be vegetarian. And I knew I would be short on time that day. As it turned out, Ottolenghi’s Plenty had a recipe that ticked all these boxes: Mushroom and Herb Polenta. It took about 40 minutes all up to make – and my friend loved it! Plenty, definitely a home-entertaining winner.
In anticipation of a busy week ahead, I decided to make a set of pull-out freezer meals. I’d also accumulated ingredients from weeks of past dinner makings. These ingredients looked rather risotto-ish …
Tired of my usual veg option (mushroom), I zhuzhed up the dish with shittake mushrooms. And the help of some young asparagus.
Not a bad effort for ‘making it up as you go along’. And as it turns out, shittake risotto tastes better the day after it’s made!
1T rice bran oil
half an onion
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2c arborio rice
1c white wine
6c vegetable stock
2c shittake mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch asparagus, sliced into 1-2cm pieces
100g light cheese, grated
zest of half a lemon
- Heat the oil in a large frypan.
- Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent.
- Add rice. Stir to coat the grains with oil.
- Next add the white wine and stir until the liquid has reduced.
- Then add a cup of the stock and stir over medium heat until the liquid in the pan has reduced. Repeat this step with the remaining stock until the rice is half cooked.
- Next add the mushrooms and stir to distribute them through the rice mixture. Then continue to add the remaining stock until the the rice is almost tender enough to eat.
- Next, add the asparagus and cook briefly. The asparagus should still be bright green and firm to the bite when you serve the risotto. If the rice is still uncooked and the liquid has reduced, add more stock and keep cooking the rice until it’s done.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir through cheese and lemon rind.
Coming up with ways to use left-over wine is one of my favourite dilemmas. “Left-over” wine? Yes.
Regardless of how it’s neglected, I’ll always take the opportunity to enrich a meal with it. In this case, it was white wine and I decided to make a low-fat mushroom lasagne with it.
When making ‘skinny’ meals, I work extra hard to ensure they’re full of flavour. Why make healthy-eating torture? The wine would add depth and flavour to the mushrooms; and the low-calorie ‘creamy’ partner would be a low-fat ricotta. For lift and complexity, I also added lemon zest to the ricotta.
As usual, I researched the net for mushroom ricotta lasagne recipes, before deciding on how I would shape my own recipe. I based my initial structure on the BBC’s GoodFood Quick Mushroom & Lasagne recipe:
My key changes to the recipe were:
- Adding white wine to the mushrooms
- Adding lemon rind to the ricotta
- Sautéeing the onions and mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter, for a hint of traditional comfort
Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta
1 T butter
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, diced
250g white button mushrooms, sliced
250mL white wine
pepper to taste
100g baby spinach
500g light ricotta cheese
grated rind of one lemon
6 fresh lasagne sheets
50g grated parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 200˚C /180˚C fan bake.
- Prepare a 19cm x 28cm baking dish with cooking spray.
- Melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté garlic and onion until onion is soft.
- Add mushrooms and cook until soft.
- Add white wine and cook until liquid has reduced to a small sauce. Season with cracked pepper.
- Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta and lemon rind.
- Line the baking dish with two sheets of lasagne, followed by the mushroom mixture. Add another layer of lasagne, then the ricotta. Sprinkle half of the parmesan over the ricotta. Finish with a final layer of lasagne, followed by the remaining parmesan.
- Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden and the lasagne is cooked through.
They say cats eat grass when they’re ill. Some believe cats eat grass to relieve sore throats. And I’ve also heard it’s a natural laxative … As for me, grass probably isn’t going to do it, but I know green’s what I’ve yearned for while feeling under the weather.
So, broccolini has been it. This broccoli-kai-lan hybrid has been around for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve really come to love it. Light cooking produces a bright spring green colour and it has an easy-to-eat appeal, particularly when you’re feeling like baby-bites of food – it’s so tender that you can eat the entire stalk. It’s also high in vitamin C, A, and B6; calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.
When fresh, broccolini needs little attention. On this occasion, I stir-fried it with a few crushed garlic cloves; then added some tinned straw mushrooms, as well as some pre-marinated honey-soy tofu for protein. Keeping things clean and simple, I paired the stir-fry with rice (sushi rice, my favourite) and finished it off with a sprinkling of cashews.
Voilà. Clean, simple, healthy food for humans.