Today was one of those days where I was hopeful that this year we’ll actually have a spring. We’ve had a few beautiful days in March, breaking up some of the seemingly endless rain and wind. Even when the air is brisk, if the sun is out I feel it in my body, with that zing of energy and motivation to do things besides curl up in bed with a cup of tea and some unintelligent reading. Like cooking. Cooking with ingredients that are slowly coming into season.
I love that. I love a change of season more than any one season itself. When the leaves turn colour and the air becomes cool while the sun still hangs in the sky. Or when the crocuses start poking out of the ground as the day grows longer, bringing it with the anticipation I will soon shed my winter coat for a light trench, followed by just a cardigan thrown over my shoulders.
And I love it when the cooking magazines come out with recipes for creative salads and breezy cocktails, and I can put away the stews until autumn, when I can get excited about them all over again. When I spied the cover of Donna Hay’s Issue 65 with a delectable looking Spring Pea and Mint Risotto, I thought, “I must make that”. Never mind that I don’t like peas. Or at least, I thought I didn’t- until I made the risotto. I then realized it’s not peas that I dislike, it’s overcooked ones. Here you defrost some frozen peas and toss them into the risotto once it’s cooked. You also make a paste out of mint and olive oil and blend it through the cooked rice, a cool little trick that I would never have thought of. I’ve tried doing this with spinach for this recipe as well, and it gives the risotto an extra something something, and looks extra pretty–especially once it’s garnished with some sugar snap peas, snow pea tendrils, and a dollop of creme fraiche. It’s spring on a plate.
Donna Hay’s Spring Pea and Mint Risotto
2 cups mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
75g unsalted butter, chopped
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup (80ml) dry white wine
2 cups (400g) arborio rice
1 1/2 litres hot chicken stock
1/2 cup (40g) frozen peas, thawed
200g sugar snap peas, trimmed, blanched, halved
sea salt and cracked black pepper
creme fraiche and snow pea tendrils, to serve
1) Place the mint and salt in a mortar and pestle and pound until a rough paste forms. Add the oil, stir to combine and set aside.
2) Melt 25g butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Add the wine and cook off for 2 minutes; add the rice and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes.
3) Add the stock, I cup (250ml) at a time, adding more once absorbed, and cook, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is cooked al dente.
4) Remove from heat and stir through the remaining butter, Parmesan, peas, sugar snap peas, mint mixture, salt and pepper. Divide between plates and top with creme fraiche and snow pea tendrils. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
Lemon Tarts with Blood Orange
I’ve been working on a series of photographs of blood oranges as a theme for an assignment. I’ve decided I like this way of shooting; one star ingredient like on Top Chef. It gets the creative juice flowing. I originally devised this recipe for a blood orange sauce and have since been using it in all manner of dessert. It’s lovely on honey or pound cake, served with rice pudding, and of course, with anything chocolatey. For these shots I got some lemon tarts from Gourmet Warehouse, where they carry some of my favourite French foods, including croissants imported from Paris, duck confit, even foie gras. I also particularly like the lemon tarts from Whole Foods.
The new direction of this blog is meant to include more photography, so going forward I’m not always going to have a recipe, but I am including a one for a fantastic lemon tart from Anne Willan, from one of my favourite cookbooks, The Country Cooking of France, in case you feel inclined to make your own. These days my tart making is limited to pulling out the all butter frozen puff pastry from aforementioned Gourmet Warehouse, but it’s a fantastic recipe if you’ve got the time.
Tarte Au Citron
from The Country Cooking of France
for the crust:
1 1/2 cups/185g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup/75g sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons/90g butter, plus more for pan
3/4 cup/12 g whole blanched almonds
3/4 cup/15 g granulated sugar
grated zest of two lemons
1/4 cup/60ml fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup/140g butter, melted
confectioner’s (icing) sugar, for sprinkling
1) To make the crust, sift the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the centre. Put the salt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the well. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it; add it to the other ingredients in the well and work with the fingers of one hand until thoroughly mixed and sugar is partly dissolved. Using a pastry scraper, gradually draw in the flour from the sides of the well, then work the dough into a ball; the dough will be uneven and unblended at this point. Wrap and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
2) Roll out the dough to medium thickness and line the tart pan as follows; brush the pan with melted butter. Fold the dough loosely around the rolling pin, lift, and unroll it over the pan, being careful not to stretch it. Gently lift the edges and press the dough well into the corners of the pan using a small ball of excess dough dipped in water. Roll the pin across the top of the pan to cut off excess dough. With your fingers, press the dough evenly up the sides of the pan to increase the height of the shell. Prick the base all over with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.
3) Heat the oven to 375F/190C and set a baking sheet on a low shelf to heat. Bake the tart shell blind on the hot baking sheet and then let it cool, leaving the baking sheet in the oven and the oven on.
4) For the filling, pulse the almonds with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor until finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and remaining sugar until light and thick enough to leave a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest, juice, and butter. Stir in the almond mixture with a spoon.
5) Set the tart shell on the hot baking sheet in the oven, and pour in the filling. Bake until set and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool, then unfold the tart onto a platter. Serve at room temperature, sprinkling with confectioner’s sugar.