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naturally gluten-free seafood risotto with roasted tomatoes, orange and fennel

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a happy and a healthy festive season. We, in the GFN household, had a fabulous time – lots of family, friends and food. My son, just shy of his second birthday, really “got” Christmas this year. It was lovely to see him fascinated by the Christmas tree, trying to see his reflection in the baubles and pointing to all the stars and lights. He also managed to grasp the concept of “presents” and had great fun ripping into the wrapping paper and playing with the toys and books he found inside.

I also did extremely well on the present front – the highlights including a Lakeland voucher (yippee!) and a library of cookery books, two of my favourites being Italian Home Baking by Gino D’Acampo and The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. The first book is a cornucopia of tasty Italian baked goodies which are ripe for a gluten-free makeover (watch this space! I’ve already made Version 1.0 of his panettone classico…) The second book is a pure joy to read – a year of Nigel Slater’s life in his kitchen and garden and the recipes which came out of it.  I’ve almost finished it in about three sittings and I’m planning to go back to the beginning as soon as I’ve finished it to pick out some recipes to make. What I love about him is that he is not in the slightest bit cheffy or precious, he eats according to what’s in season (which I intend to do more of this year) and rustles up great recipes out of sometimes what is just left in his fridge or cupboard. This recipe has evolved out of my having been inspired by him. The cupboards were looking a bit bare last week and I remembered that I had a couple of sea bass fillets in the freezer. These were duly defrosted and we had them pan-fried with leftover roasted cherry tomatoes and basmati rice dressed with lemon, olive oil and fresh dill, left over from the smoked salmon pâté I made for a family lunch. This got me thinking of seafood risotto with roasted tomatoes and flavoured with orange and dill.

naturally gluten-free seafood risotto with roasted tomatoes, orange and fennel 2

Naturally gluten-free seafood risotto with roasted tomatoes, orange and dill

Serves 2 generously

250g baby plum tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 litre fish stock
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
175g Arborio risotto rice
125ml white wine
zest of half an orange, pared into strips with a potato peeler
225g mixed cooked seafood (I used king prawns, mussels and squid)
1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped

You will also need a non-stick roasting tin and a large frying pan (skillet).

Preheat the oven to 190°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways, put them in a non-stick roasting tin, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Gently shake the tin so that the tomatoes are evenly coated and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, place the fish stock in a small saucepan and heat to simmering point over a gentle heat. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a low to medium flame and add the chopped onions. Fry for several minutes until softened, pale and translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue to fry gently for another couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to thoroughly coat the grains with oil.

Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring all the while. When the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add a ladleful of the fish stock and the strips of orange zest. Gently stir until all the fish stock has been absorbed. a ladleful at a time, stirring until it has all been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the final ladleful, fish out the strips of orange zest and discard. After adding the final ladleful, stir in the mixed seafood and half the chopped dill and gently fold in the roasted tomatoes. Stir gently until the stock has been absorbed and you are left with creamy and al dente rice. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve immediately, garnished with the remaining dill.

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When we arrived in our new home in Cheltenham last December, the garden was hibernating: the trees were bare and the borders were straggly and uninteresting. I didn’t spend much time out there because it looked cold and muddy and our son, who had only just started to walk, was still spending more of his time on his hands and knees than on his feet.

Even though we had viewed the house over the summer, I couldn’t remember at all what it had been like. I’m the first to admit that I’m no gardener and what had been important to me was that a) it was big enough to kick a football around in and b) (after having lived in a house for eight years with a gloomy north-east facing garden) it faced south.

So it has been a complete joy since the start of the spring to watch our new garden slowly re-awakening because we really have had no idea what to expect: one morning I pulled the curtains in my son’s bedroom to find the tree at the bottom covered in a billowing snowy duvet of blossom; on other days, I’ve been greeted with slashes of orange, hot pink and pale blue or the delicate aroma wafting from the rose tree.

We were aware that we had inherited three fruit trees, neatly espaliered against the fence, but we didn’t know what they were, until I discovered miniature pears and apples shortly after the blossom dropped. I’ve been carefully monitoring them ever since.

This cake has been made from the first pears that I harvested from our tree yesterday. The variations are endless though: chopped stem ginger or crushed walnuts would be a delicious addition to the pears; I also made one a couple of weeks ago using a medium cooking apple and 150g blackberries. The recipe is based upon one that my mum copied down from Jimmy Young’s Radio 2 show about 30 years ago. Originally it was made with apples and oats but I unfortunately can’t even eat gluten-free oats these days. I have used a rice and buckwheat porridge mix instead that I found at Sainsbury’s. If you can eat gluten-free oats, feel free to make it with them instead: the original recipe didn’t use milk but I found that I had to add it to the rice and buckwheat otherwise it was too dry and made a very crumbly cake.

Gluten-free pear cake

A beautifully moist cake with a crunchy crust. Perfect for afternoon tea with a cuppa or for dessert with cream.

100g gluten-free self-raising flour
100g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
200g gluten-free rice and buckwheat porridge flakes
200g butter, cubed
200g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
200ml milk
2 medium firm pears, peeled, quartered, cored and cut into 5mm slices

You will also need a 24cm x 20cm x 4cm rectangular cake tin, lined with baking parchment

Preheat the oven to 180C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Sift the flours into a bowl and mix in the rice and buckwheat porridge flakes. Place the cubed butter and caster sugar in a solid-bottomed saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted. When it has reached a consistency and colour akin to lemon curd, take the pan off the heat. Quickly stir the flour and porridge into the butter and sugar mixture. When the flour is thoroughly combined, stir in the eggs and milk.

Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin and spread evenly over the base. Now place the pear slices in a single layer. Pour the remaining cake batter over the top and smooth the surface. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before taking out of the tin. To remove the baking parchment, place a dinner plate over the top of the cake, so that it is sandwiched between the cooling rack and the plate and carefully invert. Remove the cooling rack and peel off the baking parchment. Replace the cooling rack and carefully invert once more.

Eat cut into slabs, with cream, custard, ice cream or as nature intended.

I’m a big fan of risotto. A naturally gluten-free meal that you can almost perpetually re-invent (within certain parameters, as outlined below!). When I’m trying to think of something vegetarian to cook, which we try to do at least twice a week, I generally fall back on a risotto. Wild mushroom is a particular favourite: a comforting, earthy and almost meaty dish, served with lashings of grated Parmesan and that oh-so-British addition of a green side salad (oh, heresy!). It’s an apparently simple dish which seems to have signed the death warrant of many a Masterchef hopeful, either because it’s been served with something that has no right to co-exist on the same plate (like a fillet of chicken – oh double heresy!), or the contestant has over-stepped the boundaries of what is considered ‘cutting edge’ by adding strawberries and making it into a pudding (and thrice heresy!). We watch as Greg and John put down their forks and meet the gaze of the hapless cook with pained expressions… Over-cooking is what seems to do for most of them though. Which I can’t understand really because I’m not the most patient of cooks, when standing and stirring is involved, and I’m usually looking for some way or another to speed up the process or delegate it to another electrical appliance. I have done a fair amount of internet research to see whether stirring is strictly necessary and the answer seems to be ‘yes’ (at least as far as Italian chef Gino Locatelli and his mother are concerned, and that’s good enough for me). I know that cooking risotto in the oven is possible but something inside me seems to baulk at that. Polenta, yes, risotto, no. So I stand and stir. But as soon as I can get my tooth through it, it’s off the stove and into the bowls.

This take on risotto is inspired by a recipe for risotto con gli asparagi recorded by Claudia Roden in her book, The Food of Italy. I love asparagus risotto but asparagus isn’t in season right now so I thought I’d do my bit for the environment and try something else. Like Tenderstem broccoli…which I have subsequently found out is also not to in season right now (ahem!). Tenderstem broccoli is a beautifully delicate and elegant vegetable which is, apparently, bred by crossing broccoli with Chinese kale. It has, as its name suggests, tender stems which can be eaten in their entirety and I always think of it in the same terms as asparagus. You would think that with the broccoli stems being cooked for so long that they would take on that rather metallic flavour that overcooked broccoli usually has (when it’s all mushy and khaki-coloured) but it absolutely doesn’t.

Naturally gluten-free Tenderstem broccoli risotto

 Serves 2

300g Tenderstem broccoli
750ml vegetable stock (or boiling water made up with 2 tsp Swiss Marigold Bouillon powder)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
150g Arborio risotto rice
250ml white wine (optional, but in that case, you will need a full litre of stock)
35g Grana Padano or Parmesan, grated plus extra for serving

You will also need a large frying pan (skillet) or sauté pan

Wash the Tenderstem broccoli. Cut off the florets (about 4-5cm from the tips) and set them aside. Chop the remaining stalks into 2cm lengths. Bring the vegetable stock up to the boil and add the stalks. Boil until they are very tender (about 8 minutes). Meanwhile place the florets in a steamer over boiling water and steam until only just tender. This should only take about 3 minutes and the florets should be bright green. Refresh them in cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook and set aside. When the stalks are done, blend them with a hand blender along with the stock in the saucepan.* Return to the heat and bring back up to a bare simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a low to medium flame and add the chopped onions. Fry for several minutes until softened, pale and translucent. Add the minced garlic and continue to fry gently for another couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to thoroughly coat the grains with oil. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring all the while. When the wine has been absorbed by the rice, add the stock containing the creamed broccoli stalks a ladleful at a time, stirring until it has all been absorbed before adding the next. After adding the final ladleful, stir in the grated cheese and gently fold in the steamed broccoli florets. Stir gently until the stock has been absorbed and you are left with creamy and al dente rice. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more Grana Padano or Parmesan.

*Blending hot liquids in a goblet blender can be quite dangerous. If you’re going to do this, I would suggest that you wait until the stock and stems have cooled before blending.

I have mentioned before my love of all things Mediterranean but couscous was an acquired taste for me. I remember eating it first on holiday in Normandy in France in the form of a tabbouleh when I was about 11 years old. I detested it.  I found the texture slightly slimy and reminiscent of frogspawn (not that I’ve eaten much of that!) and the taste of mint overpowering (another taste I have since acquired). I was adamant that I hated it and refused to eat it again for several years. I re-discovered it, again in France, but this time with seafood. I was converted. I liked it. It became a convenient, go-to standby – healthy fast food that worked with meat, fish, vegetables…you name it. Until I discovered bulgur wheat, that is. That’s when the love affair truly started. I adored bulgur wheat from the moment I first came across it, swathed in a cellophane wrapper in Waitrose. Not a romantic encounter in the bazaars of Istanbul but the grains looked like beautiful jagged shards of frankincense and transported me to the Middle East even though I’d never been there.

Losing bulgur wheat from my diet, when I went gluten-free, was what I struggled with the most…even more than the thought of never eating croissants again (I know!!!!). I grieved and I’ve been striving to replace it ever since. I’ve tried millet in a tabbouleh (yick – it looked wonderful and I was going to post the recipe but then I thought, “But I don’t even LIKE it!) and quinoa, which I quite like but it always seems cold, wet and a bit, well, seedy (in the botanical sense). I know I need to try a bit harder with quinoa. I’ve even tried rice couscous, which I came across in an organic food shop in Bristol. I was excited when I found it. I followed the instructions on the packet to the letter (which entailed boiling it for 3 or 4 minutes) and ended up with a gelatinous morass of overcooked rice sludge. I took matters in my own hands and soaked it in hot water for a few minutes. Hurrah! A result! And you know what? It tasted like…well, rice… At over £3 a packet, I thought I could get the taste of rice cheaper… And I have. I’ve started using pudding rice where you would normally use couscous or bulgur wheat, purely because it’s a much shorter grain and gives a different texture than basmati or long grain. This recipe would work equally well with a more traditional type of rice but food isn’t just about the flavour, after all. Aesthetics come into it as well. Otherwise there’d only be one shape of pasta…

Naturally gluten-free harissa rice salad with chickpeas and black olives

Serves 2 (but easily doubled)

140g pudding rice
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp harissa
juice half a lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried coriander (cilantro) or handful fresh, chopped *
100g tinned chickpeas  (garbanzos)(drained weight)
50g pitted black olives, halved

Rinse the rice in a sieve under cold running water until the water runs clear. Bring a large pan of salted water up to the boil and cook the rice for 8 minutes or until still slightly undercooked. Drain, rinse with boiling water and leave to steam dry for several minutes in the colander. The rice should finish cooking in the residual heat. I prefer to do this rather than refresh it in cold water because I always end up with cold, wet rice which doesn’t absorb the dressing.

While the rice is drying, make the dressing. Crush the garlic along with the salt in a pestle and mortar to create a smooth paste. Add the peppercorns and crush them coarsely (I always crush the peppercorns after the garlic – that way you don’t get rogue peppercorns jumping out all over the work surface and the floor!). Add the harissa, lemon juice and coriander (cilantro) and stir to combine. Finally, whisk in the olive oil.

Put the rice in your serving bowl and add the dressing, olives and chickpeas (garbanzos). Stir through gently with a fork until the chickpeas and olives are evenly distributed and the rice grains are coated and glistening with the dressing. I served this with grilled chicken and a green salad.

* I used dried coriander because I didn’t have any fresh. Next time, I would probably use fresh.

For several years I lived with pounding headaches, aching joints, a runny nose, fatigue and digestive problems on a daily basis. I popped painkillers as though they were Smarties and had a stash of mentholated 4head sticks on the bedside table, in coat pockets, at the bottom of bags and at the back of desk drawers. The thing is, I didn’t really question what was causing all of this discomfort. I just assumed that the stresses of a long commute and a day of teaching secondary school pupils with learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties were grinding me down.  I left the job but the symptoms persisted. I would wake up in the morning, feeling absolutely fine but, half an hour after a wheat-packed breakfast, I would get that expanding, burning aching in my head which would start at my temples, spread to my throat and make me feel queasy. I would automatically reach for the co-codamol whilst furiously smearing my forehead with menthol. It wasn’t until I decided that it was time I lost the stone and a half of excess weight that I’d been carrying around for far too long and went on the South Beach Diet, which cuts out gluten-containing foods, amongst others, for the first fortnight, that I found out, quite by accident that I was gluten intolerant. On my doctor’s advice, I’ve recently decided to find out if I’m actually coeliac or not. The diagnosis will make little difference to my everyday life, however. I’ve eaten gluten-free for the past two years and haven’t looked back. I’ve never felt so well. And the only thing I now eat like Smarties are, well, Smarties.
Naturally gluten-free chicken pilaf with artichokes and preserved lemons
The taste of the cumin and the lemons take me back to a restaurant overlooking Jemaa El-Fna in Marrakech where I first had a chicken, olive and lemon tagine. Preserved lemons have a fairly strong, medicinal flavour which I love but which isn’t to everyone’s taste. The first time I cooked this recipe, I put in two lemons and the flavour was quite over-powering. The second time, I only used one. The flavour is now far more subtle. I would imagine that a fresher lemon flavour could be achieved through the substitution of preserved lemons for the juice of a fresh one and the zest of half of it.
Serves 2-3 (We usually manage to eat the whole thing between the two of us, but then we’re just plain greedy).
·         Handful flaked almonds
·         2 tsp cumin seeds
·         Medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
·         2 tbsp olive oil
·         2 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
·         200g basmati rice, rinsed under cold running water until the water runs clear
·         600ml chicken or vegetable stock or plain water
·         5 tinned artichoke hearts, quartered
·         1 small preserved lemon, chopped into small pieces
·         Handful fresh coriander, stalks removed and roughly chopped
·         Salt and pepper
Gently toast the flaked almonds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until golden brown. This should take about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside in a small bowl. Carefully wipe the hot pan with a piece of kitchen roll to remove any shards of almond and return to the heat. Now gently toast the cumin seeds in the dry pan, still over a medium heat, until they become fragrant. This should take about a minute. Remove from the pan and grind to a powder, using a pestle and mortar.
Return the pan to the heat and pour in the olive oil. When hot, add the onions and cook until soft but not coloured. This should take about 7-8 minutes. Add the cumin powder to the onions and stir. Allow to cook for another couple of minutes, stirring to avoid the onions and cumin sticking and catching.
Add the rice to the pan and stir until all the grains are coated and glistening with oil. Add about 580ml of the stock and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Add the preserved lemon to the pan and allow to gently bubble away for about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces and the quartered artichoke hearts to the pan and continue to simmer until the rice is tender, the chicken is cooked through and all the liquid has been absorbed. If the rice absorbs all of the liquid before it’s cooked, add more stock, a ladle at a time, to keep the mixture moist. This should take about 10 minutes.
Check the seasoning, adding pepper, and salt if required (I find that the stock has plenty of salt in it and I never need to add more). Stir half the coriander into the rice and scatter the remainder over the top, along with the toasted flaked almonds. Serve with a green salad.
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