One of the cruellest things about being pregnant - taking aside for one moment the fact that you cannot drink, feel like a very large, unattractive mammal and involuntarily adopt a walking style ressembling that of a duck - is that you can't enjoy the sales... in the early stages you might get away with buying tops or shoes, but at the moment, even that is out of the question for me. The shoes might fit, but despite having kept unusually neat, I have trouble reaching my toes these days and asking a shop assistant to put them on me is an embarrassment I can really do without, thank you very much!
Good thing I am interested in food, then, so there's still a few aspects of the sale that I can enjoy... did you know that at Harrod's, for example, even the cakes are half-price? I have spent sinful amounts of money on cakes there on occasions... and bought more than I could actually stomach! But of course, homeware stores are just as good for indulging in some retail therapy in my condition. In the autumn sales, I bought no less than seven fantastic stainless steel pots (big, heavy-based and with lids!) for a mere £120 from the Professional Cookware Company, an impulse buy I haven't come to regret yet. Last week, with the due date passed and getting a bit frustrated with it all, I indulged in some more shopping and bought, amongst countless other things, my first LeCreuset ceramic dish - in beautiful baby blue, unconsciously hoping that he might be pursuaded, but no! I am still waiting for him to make his appearance!
At least I took advantage of the time at hand and made an indulgent oven-baked risotto losely based on a recipe in the latest edition of delicious magazine (which, incidentally, sports a feature on thepassionatecook and a very unflattering photograph of yours truly)... heaps of fresh mushrooms, a handful of porcini brought back from our trip to Rome in the summer, some chestnuts remaining from the Christmas season and the lot topped with melted Fontina cheese. I am not convinced that baking your risotto is an improvement over the traditional method, given that it takes longer and doesn't completely look after itself - but if you're planning it for a casual dinner with friends and want something that will allow you to entertain with only occasional trips to the kitchen, this might be a good option. It certainly is great comfort food... just what you need on a rainy, stormy January day like the ones we're experiencing right now!
Oven-baked mushroom risotto*
40 g dried porcini mushrooms
250 g chestnut mushrooms
150 g shitake mushrooms
75 g butter
1 large onion (finely chopped)
200 g chopped roasted chestnuts (fresh or from a jar)
1 handful thyme leaves
300 g arborio risotto rice
50 ml Noilly Prat (or use Oloroso sherry for a stronger taste)
500 ml vegetable stock
1 generous handful parmesan
150 g Fontina** cheese (use any other tasty, easy-melt cheese as an alternative)
This recipe can be prepared as a one-pot if you use an oven-proof dish which can be used on a direct flame.
Soak the porcini in 50 ml of warm water for 15 minutes. Prepare the other mushrooms by cleaning them thoroughly, then chopping them roughly. When the porcini are softened, squeeze them dry, then chop finely. Retain the soaking liquid.
Pre-heat the oven to 150 C.
Melt the butter in a shallow pot or frying pan. Add the onion and fry until soft and browning. Add the mushrooms. Fry until most of the liquid forming has evaporated.
Stir in the rice, sweating it for 3 minutes. Deglaze with the Noilly Prat and turn off the heat. Add the chestnuts, 250 g of the vegetable stock and the liquid you've retained from soaking the porcini (you might want to pass this through a fine-meshed sieve or a filter to get rid of any sand) and combine thoroughly.
Grease an oven-proof dish with butter, then add the risotto mixture and transfer to the pre-heated oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Stir in the parmesan. After 15 minutes, add the remaining stock, stirring through. Cover the dish with foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Check the consistency of the rice - it should be soft, but retain a certain bite.
Stir the risotto again and top with thin slices of the Fontina cheese. Put under the grill for 3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. If you don't have a grill function, raise temperature to 250C instead.
Serve the risotto immediately, with some salad on the side.
* Losely based on a recipe in the February 07 edition of delicious. magazine, p.66.
** In the UK, Fontina is widely available at Waitrose supermarkets.