ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Stock Cupboard Essentials - Pancetta and Chorizo Risotto

Somebody asked me the other day about my stock cupboard essentials, with the qualifier 'I suppose you get asked this all the time'. Which was interesting because I can't actually remember ever being asked before.

I suppose it's one of those things that people take for granted. We all have the same sort of shit in our kitchens, and the bigger the kitchen, the more of it we have.

But I'm not wholly convinced that this is true.

If you caught the interesting-but-overproduced Back in Time for Dinner series on BBC2 recently, you'll have seen the unlikeable Robshaw family kitted out successively with the kitchens of the past. (If you didn't, it's worth watching even though some of the situations were so contrived, presenter Giles Coren seemed almost embarassed to be there at times.)

Pancetta and Chorizo Risotto
But whether it was the walk-in larder of the 1950s or the big fuck-off 80s chest freezer, the Robshaws always seemed to have plenty of storage space for their food.

For those of us living in bijou London flatettes, decisions - and compromises - need to be made. Not for us the luxury of keeping dubious packets that we'll never open at the back of the cupboard.

We don't have the space for phials of rose water, expired baking soda or gelatine from three different species, but equally I choose not to keep some stuff that most people would consider stock cupboard essentials in order to free up room for the stuff I like and frequently use.

So there's no space for dried pasta or tinned tomatoes in the BV kitchen. Nor will you find Margarine or frozen peas. I don't even always have eggs.

But here's what's in:

  1. Risotto. Arborio or other risotto rice is a magical staple that can conjure up a meal from almost nothing. In it's simplest form, brown a little onion in some butter, add risotto and cook it up with lots of Normandy butter and Saffron. Delightful.
  2. Cooking wine. Ideally you want to have a cheap white and a cheaper red on the go at all times.
  3. Chorizo. A good quality mature chorizo will last for several weeks and, as you'll see in today's recipe (and others like Gnocchi Bravas and Chorizo wraps) is a very useful, versatile ingredient.
  4. Olive oil. I'm not reliant on any generic vegetable oil products in my kitchen, and why would I be when Olive oil exists?
  5. Pancetta cubes / Smoked lardons. A whole lot of meatiness in a small package.
  6. Herbs and spices. A crucial core of about 16. Honestly, they have a World Health Organisation list of essential medicines for a basic health system, and there should be a list of essential spices for a basic kitchen. We'll be using a few in this recipe, but it's a topic that probably deserves a blog of its own.
  7. Onions. I get anxious and twitchy when I see that the kitchen has run out of onions. How many recipes have I blogged over the years that don't contain onion in some form or other?!? Quite possibly just desserts.
  8. Anchovies. Not just for pizzas. They're great melted into seafood dishes, and even crop up in some other strange places, like BV's Boston Baked Beans.
  9. Capers. Little green berry bursts of flavour.
  10. Fresh Parmesan. Another co-star that delivers a big punch in a small package. So many dishes benefit from a sprinkling of hard cheese, it's heartbreakingly conspicuous by its absence when you run out of the stuff.
  11. Worcestershire Sauce. Like parmesan it's pure umami. 
  12. Pesto. Zingy basily goodness that you just can't get from pure basil. (Though basil is obviously still an essential part of the Herbs and Spices section of the Kitchen orchestra!)

And here's a dish that takes 75% of these stock cupboard staples and puts them all together in the Big Brother House, or whatever the pop culture reference of the day is. Enjoy.

Pancetta and Chorizo Risotto

Ingredients - makes four goodly portions:

Risotto rice, about 1lb

Pancetta cubes, at least two big workman's handfuls
Cooking chorizo, a similar quantity, diced
Red onions, 2-3, finely chopped
Vine tomatoes, 4-6, finely chopped
Shitake mushrooms, 8-10, roughly chopped
Sweet red pepper, 1-2, as above

Worcestershire Sauce
Red Wine
Black pepper
Smoked paprika

To serve:
Grated parmesan


Dry fry the Chorizo and Pancetta in a big saute pan at a high temperature. The oils that emerge should be such that no additional cooking fat is required, but if you're using a leaner, inferior product, a little Olive oil can be added.

After a couple of minutes add the onions and fry until they start to brown, followed by about a quarter of the risotto rice, ensuring it's nicely coated with the chorizo juices.

Now you can chuck in the mushrooms and peppers, sprinkle in some oregano and smoke paprika and continue to fry vigourously, before finally adding the tomatoes, the Worcestershire sauce and about another quarter of the rice, so you've got half left. (This method ensures slightly different textures of risotto by the end.)

When the tomatoes start to soften it's time to add the capers, a good glug of wine and the rest of the rice. Now you can take the heat down just slightly and start pouring in boiling water, a little bit at a time, and watch the rice absorb everything. I try to aim for slightly more wine than water in the liquid mix, so feel free to add more wine if it's losing the battle!

As the grains being to plump up you can start loading it with big knobs of butter and a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Until you've cooked a few risotto dishes, you'll be surprised how much liquid and butter can be absorbed by the stuff.

You can cover the pan and leave it for a few minutes, but no more than a few at a time or it might dry out or stick to the bottom of the pan.

A taste test will tell you when it's ready to serve, and a final chunk of butter should be swirled in just prior to serving.

Pretty food it ain't - just plate up with Parmesan and a few capers on the side and tuck the fuck in!

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