Mark Hix recipes: Rice provides the basis for an infinite variety of dishes

Rice is a store cupboard essential but it must be treated with respect to keep its identity and texture in the dish

Mark Hi
Saturday 28 November 2015 00:10

Whether it be basmati, long grain, risotto or paella rice, these grains are a store cupboard essential. I like to keep a wide selection of different varieties, as they allow for such a vast array of recipes and you never know which ones may come in handy if you're feeling spontaneous. Rice does need careful cooking though, and it must be treated with respect to keep its identity and texture in the dish.

The great thing with cooking with rice is that it's very good at absorbing flavours, especially in risotto or paella dishes, so your stock strength is crucial. With basmati on the other hand, it's all about careful cooking and timing to ensure perfect, fluffy grains.

Paella with rabbit and snails

Serves 4-6

This dish is often misunderstood when copied, usually because the real thing has never been experienced or if it has it's been a tourist version. What should go into a paella? Much depends on where you eat it. I've had it with all sorts of varying ingredients and whether you are inland or by the sea will determine the content. The colour will also depend on how much fish or meat goes into it. The best paellas are often the most unattractive-coloured ones often to be found in the most unusual places.

I came across this version with rabbit and snails in a place near Gerona, almost unreachable by road.

6 rabbit legs, chopped into pieces on the bone
60ml olive oil plus for the top
2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
5g thyme, roughly chopped
1tsp saffron strands
150g wild mushrooms cut into even sized pieces
150-200g paella rice
1.5 ltrs chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
16-20 good quality cooked snails, with or without their shells

Put the pieces of rabbit into a saucepan with the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 45 minutes or until the rabbit is tender, then drain reserving the stock.

Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6. Heat the olive oil in a wide, shallow saucepan or paella pan on the stove and gently cook the the onions, garlic and thyme in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring. Add the pieces of rabbit and mushrooms and continue cooking for about 5 minutes allowing the rabbit and onions to colour a little. Add the saffron and rice and stir well. Pour in half the stock, season and place in the centre of the oven.

Once the rice has absorbed the stock, add the rest of the stock and continue to cook in the oven, stirring once or twice until the rice is tender. Remove from the oven and stir in the snails. Spoon over the rest of the oil and return to
the oven for another 6-7 minutes adding a little more stock if required. The consistency of the paella should be fairly wet. You can turn the oven off and leave to sit in the pan for about 10 minutes to rest before serving.

You can pre-cook the rabbit in the stock the day or so before and leave in the stock in the fridge before straining and making the risotto.

Root vegetable risotto

Serves 4

Winter root vegetables make a great colourful risotto to serve at a dinner party as a starter or a vegetarian main course. You can use any seasonal vegetables you want for this. Even add some diced green cabbage.

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tbsp of olive oil
200g carnaroli rice
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into rough 1 cm dice
1 medium turnip, trimmed, peeled and cut into rough 1 cm dice
1 small or half a swede, trimmed, peeled and cut into rough 1 cm dice
1 small parsnip, trimmed, peeled and cut into rough 1 cm dice
1-1.2ltrs hot vegetable stock, or a couple good quality stock cubes dissolved in that amount of water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp chopped parsley
60g butter
80g freshly grated parmesan

Melt the butter in a heavy pan and gently cook the onion for a couple minutes until soft. Add the rice, stirring it well with a wooden spoon over a low heat for a minute.

Gradually add the hot stock a little at a time for 5 minutes, stirring constantly and ensuring that each addition has been fully absorbed before adding the next.

Root vegetable risotto is perfect for a dinner party as a starter or a vegetarian main course

Add the vegetables, season and continue adding the stock and cooking in the same way until the rice is soft, but retains a bit of bite. The risotto should be quite moist at this stage, neither too dry nor too wet. Add the parsley and butter and stir in half of the parmesan. Correct the seasoning and add more stock if necessary. Serve immediately, with the rest of the parmesan served separately.

The day or morning before, you can half-cook your risotto then tip it on to a tray to cool down, refrigerate it then when you are ready to serve it simply transfer it back into a pan and continue where you left off.

Torta Pasqualina

Serves 6-8

This is traditionally served as an Easter dish but there's no reason why you can't make it at any time of year. You can use leftover risotto or cook a fresh one with vegetable or chicken stock. Serve this as a snack or as a meal with a leaf salad.

400-500g or so of cooked risotto
2-3tbsp olive oil
600g spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
1 onion, peeled, halved finely chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten
120g freshly grated parmesan cheese
100g breadcrumbs
40g butter, melted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a saucepan over a medium heat and pour in the olive oil and gently cook the onion on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. Stir every so often until soft, then add the spinach and continue cooking for a couple more minutes, without colouring.

In a large bowl mix the spinach, risotto, half the parmesan and eggs and season. Grease a round cake tin with a removeable base with butter, and press the rice and spinach mixture into the tin.

Torta Pasqualina is traditionally served as an Easter dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C /Gas mark 6. In a small bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, butter and remaining parmesan cheese, and sprinkle over the spinach and rice.

Place in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden. If you wish you can make this ahead of time, minus the crumb topping – even the day before – and simply store in the fridge until ready to serve.

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