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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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So, why have I called this post “Naturally gluten-free…”?

Think of it as a caveat. Because, basically, this recipe wouldn’t contain gluten anyway. I haven’t tried to do anything ‘clever’ with the trifecta of gluten-free baking: rice flour, potato starch and xanthan gum.

So I suppose what I’m doing is setting out my stall straightaway. A pre-emptive strike, if you will. I, for one, have a tendency to get hung-up on the food that I can’t eat and forget about the food I can (especially when I’m in the mood to blog), so I’m always thinking about how next to tweak my bread recipe (STILL not happy with it!) and how I can put a new twist on a muffin. I never really hankered after cakes and biscuits when I could eat them. Now, I do. A classic case of “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” (cue Joni Mitchell).

But really, there are only four things I can’t eat: wheat, barley, rye and oats. Everything else I can…that’s a LOT of food if you think about it. And on a day-to-day basis, the truth is that I’m not constantly trying to whip up a batch of ersatz croissants. Much of my diet is made up of naturally gluten-free food.

Such as this chorizo and butterbean stew. I know that there was a debate some time ago about whether gluten-free cookbooks (and I suppose, by extension, gluten-free blogs) should contain naturally gluten-free recipes because, presumably, if you call something gluten-free then there’s the implication that it originally would have had gluten in it and you’ve done something frightfully clever to create it without.

But this blog is about what I love to cook and what I love to eat. So, here’s my NATURALLY gluten-free recipe. And I make no apologies for it…

Naturally gluten-free chorizo and butterbean stew

This is a really simple dish to make. The preparation is straightforward and then it just takes care of itself in the oven. I always add a half spoon of sugar when I’m cooking with tomatoes otherwise I find them too acidic. Don’t be tempted to put in more than a small sprig of rosemary. I find a little goes a long way.

Serves 2

150g chorizo, cut into 5mm slices
1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
1 red pepper (capsicum), deseeded and cut into 1cm strips
1 x 410g tin of butterbeans (235g drained weight), drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
1 small sprig rosemary

You will also need a flameproof casserole with a lid

Preheat the oven to 160°C (mine is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Place the chorizo slices in a flameproof casserole and place over a medium heat. Dry fry the chorizo for about 5 minutes, until it is darkened and slightly crisp, and the bottom of the pan is covered in orange oil. Remove the chorizo from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion and pepper and fry, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes. The vegetables should be glistening and have started to soften.  

Return the chorizo to the pan along with the butterbeans and the tomatoes. Fill the empty tomato can with cold water and add to the casserole. Finally sprinkle over the sugar and add the rosemary sprig. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Serve with a crisp green salad and a slice of gluten-free focaccia.

I have a great fondness for tomatoes in all their guises, whether they be sundried or sunblushed, puréed or passata’d, or just as nature intended. For me, they are a perfect foil for a salty slab of Cheddar in a doorstep sandwich, the savoury mixer in my favourite cocktail, and a rich and warming base for casseroles, pasta and curry sauces.

I buy the cheapest tinned tomatoes – they tend to be more watery than the more expensive brands but if you cook them down for a bit longer, I really don’t think it makes much of a difference – and they’ll still be of a better quality than any fresh you could buy at the same price anyway. Fresh tomatoes, however, are something that I don’t mind paying extra for and I make sure I treat them well. There’s no point in paying a premium for decent tomatoes and then putting them straight in the fridge, which kills the enzymes in them and annihilates the flavour. I always keep my tomatoes in the fruit bowl where they belong. I usually buy tomatoes that are still on the vine and have recently started buying organic ones. They are beautifully red and when I open the packet, I’m engulfed by a smell that takes me back to my grandfather’s greenhouse where he used to grow his own.

No cheap tomato will ever do that for you. No matter how hard you sniff.

I’m a sucker for anything miniature – kittens, Cadbury’s mini eggs (haven’t had them for years – don’t even know if they’re gluten-free or not), those toy cooking sets you can buy in Ikea, my son’s first shoes, skirts (back in the day!) – and fruit and vegetables are no exception. You can buy all manner of baby tomatoes these days. They’re delicious for snacking and they do obviate the need for a napkin to mop up the rogue juice and pips that you inevitably find splattered on your chin and down your front when you sink your teeth into a full-sized one. They’re also beautiful when roasted. Coating them with balsamic vinegar in this recipe intensifies their flavour even more and gives them a rich and meaty texture.

PS – sorry the photos aren’t up to snuff – I had to use my smartphone!

Gluten-free garlic and herb spaghetti with balsamic roasted baby plum tomatoes and basil

Serves 3

650g baby plum tomatoes
10 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
260g gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
15g cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used thyme and basil)
1/2 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
3 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
cold water
couple of handfuls torn basil leaves
Parmesan, grated

You will also need a pasta rolling machine with a spaghetti attachment

Preheat the oven to 150C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly). Cut the baby plum tomatoes in half and toss them in a bowl with the unpeeled garlic cloves, balsamic vinegar and a good glug of olive oil. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in a single layer on a non-sticking baking sheet and tuck the unpeeled garlic cloves in amongst them. Sprinkle with sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

To make the spaghetti, first of all, cut a strip of greaseproof baking paper about 30cm long and wide enough to fit underneath the rolling machine. You will need this when cutting the pasta with the spaghetti attachment. Put the flour, cornflour, xanthan gum, dried herbs, garlic granules and salt into the bowl of the food processor. Blitz for a couple of seconds to mix the flours and break up any lumps. Add the three eggs and the oil. Blitz again to combine and gradually add a little cold water through the funnel until you have a soft dough.

Tip the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and knead into a ball. It should be soft and ever so slightly tacky to the touch*. Now either wrap the ball in clingfilm or return it to the bowl of the food processor and put the lid back on to keep the pasta from drying out.

Place a large plate dusted with flour next to the rolling machine. Working with a tomato-sized piece at a time, roll the dough out on an unfloured surface with a rolling pin until it is a few millimetres thick. Try to get either the width or the length approximately the same width as the pasta rolling machine. Pass the dough through just once through thickness settings 2 to 4**. Make sure you carefully support its weight with your free hand. Dust each side of the sheet of dough liberally with flour*** and make sure that the greaseproof paper is in place underneath before putting it through the spaghetti attachment. Slide the greaseproof paper out from under the machine and tip the spaghetti onto a plate. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Cover with clingfilm until ready to use.

At the end of the tomatoes’ roasting time, remove them from the oven and keep warm. Bring a large pan of salted water up to a rolling boil and cook the spaghetti in two or three batches. As soon as the pasta is in the pan, put the lid on and remove the pasta as soon as the water has returned to the boil. Drain and add to the tomatoes. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, chuck in the torn basil leaves and toss gently to combine. Serve with grated Parmesan and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

*If the dough is sticking, flour the work surface and knead the ball of dough. Then break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces to distribute the flour more evenly, tip back onto the surface and knead into a ball. Likewise, if the dough is too hard and dry, break the ball up and return it to the food processor. Blitz into small pieces and add a little more water. Once it has come together again, tip back out onto the work surface.

** The sheet will have slightly raggedy edges and may have a few holes. This is to be expected and it won’t be noticeable when cut into spaghetti. If the dough disintegrates when it goes through the rollers, it is probably too dry. See *

*** This is a vital part of the process in order to stop the spaghetti clumping together. The flour should wash off when it is being cooked.

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