Friday, 3 June 2011

A Taste of Sunshine - Courgette and Prawn Risotto with Courgette Flowers

Courgette plant - going strong!

I’ve got to admit that I’m feeling rather pleased with myself, smug, if you will. I’ve turned my overgrown, sorry excuse for a small urban garden into a little kitchen garden, basking in the sunshine, bees hopping from plant to plant and scented by sweet peas and growing all manner of edible delights by day; romantic hideaway, lit by twinkly fairy lights and scented by garden candles by night. Tomatoes, runner beans, carrots, beetroots (oh my), but most pleasing to me are those foods that money just can’t buy – radish tops, onions stalks (to be used instead of chives) and most excitingly, courgette flowers. And these are they bits most people throw on the compost heap. Not me, everything I grow that’s edible I eat. Tight? Maybe. Imaginative? Definitely.

You can’t buy courgette flowers in the shops – well not that I’ve seen anyway – and even if you could, they would be ridiculously expensive. They need to be picked at the right time (just after their work on the plant is done and just before they wilt and fall off the courgette). When picked, you have only hours before they wilt and turn brown – how on earth would you get them to market, I wonder? 

But don’t let that stop you! Find a friend who grows – we all have one – and pinch your flowers from them (make them dinner if guilt sets in). 
Beautiful flowers, bad picture.
Rainy day outside, sunshine inside
Courgette flowers aren’t substantial. They don’t taste of much. But their texture makes up for it, amazingly smooth and silky, adding another dimension to a dish, not to mention the wow factor. And they’re beautiful, so beautiful that they bring a little bit of sunshine to an otherwise dull day. And these reasons are exactly why I do not, will not, absolutely refuse, to stuff and deep fry them. These delicate little flowers should be wilted into food, not fried to a crisp, losing their special texture and dulling that gorgeous sunshine yellow. There must be a better way?

So I took inspiration from Two Greedy Italians who gently stir theirs into a risotto at the end of cooking. I once gave my risotto to an actual Greedy Italian who’d never learnt to cook and, whilst we were living in Amsterdam for work had his mother bring food for his freezer. Maybe this was why I was so bitter when he called my beloved risotto a Spanish Paella. And maybe it was more like a paella - I follow my instincts when I cook letting tastes and textures guide me, throwing chunks of vegetables in and, horror of horrors, adding parmesan to seafood. Well, I like it, I think the parmesan makes a risotto, and I won’t be told what I do and don’t like. I’m not one for rules and I’ll add what I want to (cue stamping of feet and sticking out lip).

I know this isn’t the Italian way – it’s the Bea way.

But, whatever happens, I do follow, no, cherish the basic rule of making a proper Italian risotto - I patiently stir, adding stock, and continuing to stir until my arm aches and the rice is perfectly cooked, the pain always alleviated by the glass of wine I sip as I do so (well, I open a bottle to add some to the rice… it’d be rude not to!).

But the delicate nature of the flowers had an oddly calming effect on me as I saw my knife chopping small pieces of courgette as opposed to the chunks I favour, taking my time as I went. And I was happy, the smaller pieces didn’t overtake the dish, and had less crunch than normal, making a smooth risotto that allowed the delicate flowers to shine through. OK, I get it now. The Italian way is better and The Greedy Italian who shunned my risotto would be proud, but it certainly wasn’t as mamma used to make… I still added parmesan cheese. I love it, OK?

Anyway, rules are made to be broken…

Courgette and Prawn Risotto with Courgette Flowers
Summer in a Bowl
  • 2 tbsp oilive oil 
  • 25g unsalted butter 
  • Onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped 
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed 
  • 250g risotto rice 
  • Small glass of white wine 
  • 2 litres (ish) of hot vegetable stock 
  • 2 small courgettes 
  • 300g cooked king prawns 
  • Courgette flowers, stamen removed (these are rather bitter) and lightly rinsed. 
  • Parmesan to taste (optional, but go on, break the mould, you won’t regret it) 
Serves 2

1. In a wide, heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil and half of the butter over a medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the onion, celery and garlic, stir to coat in the oil and leave to cook over a low heat for 7-8 minutes until onions are soft and translucent.

2. Add the rice, stir to coat in the oils and cook until translucent at the edges – about 5 minutes – before tipping in the glass of wine. Pour yourself a glass and get ready to stir.

3. Stir the rice until all the liquid has been absorbed, before adding your first ladle full (you needn’t be precise) of stock. Stir again until absorbed and repeat. After 10 minutes, add the courgette.

4. Continue until the rice is cooked, but still firm to the bite, and there is a little liquid left in the pan – you don’t want dry or sloppy, just nicely in the middle.

5. Stir in the prawns, cook for a further minute then add the remaining butter, courgette flowers and parmesan (if using), put a lid on and leave for 2 minutes. Season to taste and serve.


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