I actually cooked this a couple of weeks ago now, but it was just before we went away for 10 days and I was too busy finishing my posts on cloth nappies for Real Nappy Week (and getting ready to get the four of us off on holiday – that’s no easy feat!) so I didn’t get round to blogging this rather delicious meal until now. Risottos are a great way to use up things in the fridge that have seen better days and/or a great way to chuck in things from the store cupboard if you’re running low on fresh ingredients. These are the reasons why I cobbled this together just before going away, and the result was a yummy family meal.
Needless to say, Andrew loved it, as always. Joel is still not eating much, just a nibble here and there, but when he’s having a go at more variety of flavours and textures, this would be a great meal for him too. I’d say it works for a baby doing baby-led weaning because you can just choose which veg they like or which veg you want them to try, and decide what size of chunks they are confident with when adding ingredients, starting with bigger pieces (maybe not kidney beans like in this recipe straight away). The pea pesto adds a lovely flavour, a sweetness that makes it appealing to kids I think, and a lovely bright colour, which is also appealing, maybe even more so to kids than adults!
And of course using the slow cooker meant I could prep earlier in the day (it took about 10 minutes) and the risotto was ready for dinner at 6.30pm. Easy PEAsy…. have a go yourself if you like!
1 tin kidney beans
200g long grain rice
2 tbsp cornflour
800ml hot stock (I use low salt)
100g frozen peas
50g Parmesan cheese
Glug of olive oil
Chop the carrots into chunks.
Put the carrots, kidney beans, rice and cornflour into the slow cooker pot.
Add the stock and stir.
Cook on low for 3 hours.
After you’ve put the slow cooker on, make the pesto. Start by cooking the peas for 2 minutes in the microwave or in a pan of boiling water.
Put the cooked peas, cheese and a glug of olive oil in a blender and whizz until a smooth paste – add a bit more oil if it’s too thick until you have the right consistency to stir through the risotto.
When the slow cooker is finished, stir the pesto through the risotto until evenly distributed.
Serve immediately; any leftovers can be frozen for a quick tasty meal another time.
Last Sunday we went for lunch at Andrew and Joel’s Godmum’s house. She cooked us a very yummy risotto with leek and Parmesan. Andrew was very keen on it, and gave it the sign of approval ‘ “Yummy yummy!” This inspired me to do a risotto for my slow cooking this week. We didn’t get leeks in the veg box this week, but we did get a Savoy cabbage, so I used that instead, but still paired it with Parmesan because I thought it would go just as well. And the amount of Parmesan I used made a really cheesy dish – I believe that if you’re going to have cheese in something, you need to be able to taste it and taste it well!
Although I like the texture of risotto rice, I don’t normally buy it (unless it’s a special occasion) because it’s so expensive compared to the basics/value stuff; instead I use ordinary long grain rice and add some cornflour to give it a bit of creaminess like risotto rice gives. Recently I haven’t put wine in risottos because I haven’t been drinking it myself for ages (pregnancy, breastfeeding and generally not being up in the evenings!). But the risotto that we had cooked for us last Sunday reminded me that it really does add something to the taste – not in a very strong alcoholic way, but in a subtle way. So I decided to open the one bottle of wine we had in the flat and add some of it to this meal.
Here’s the recipe (again a very easy one)….
Ingredients – serves 3-4
250g rice (either risotto or long grain – add 2 tbsp cornflour for long grain)
1 litre hot stock (I use low salt)
150ml white wine
half a medium savoy cabbage
2 cloves garlic
80g grated parmesan
Shred the cabbage finely, chop the mushrooms into quarters, and crush the garlic cloves.
Put all the ingredients except the cheese into the slow cooker pot and stir.
Cook on low for 2 hours.
Add the cheese and stir well.
Cook for a further half hour on low.
Serve immediately with a good grind of black pepper; leave any leftovers to cool and freeze for future meals.
Although I knew you could put pearly barley in soups and stews to give a thicker texture, I’d never thought of making a meal in which pearl barley was the main ingredient, used like rice to make a risotto, until I saw it used like this in a recipe in my slow cooker cookbook from which I’ve taken inspiration for various recipes that I’ve come up with. The barley gives it a slightly different taste and texture compared to ordinary risotto with rice, and I like having this for a change. Plus barley is supposed to be good for breast milk production.
The recipe for pearl barley risotto in my book isn’t really my cup of tea because it contains blue cheese, which I don’t like. So I’ve changed all the ingredients except the pearl barley and created a risotto that’s more to my taste. I included a tin of chopped tomatoes because, for risottos in general, I’m into using chopped tomatoes as part of the liquid for cooking the rice – it gives it a good flavour without having to use as much stock, which is great in terms of salt reduction for little ones, and Andrew isn’t too keen on raw tomatoes but will happily eat cooked ones from a tin in sauces on pasta and rice like this. The vegetables in this risotto were those which came in our veg box this week – all our meals these days are planned around what veg we get, and I like this because it makes me think of new things rather than always buying the same kinds of veg week in week out. I also chucked in a tin of canellini beans as the protein in our meal. The final touch was a sprinkling of grated mature cheddar to give an extra boost of flavour.
My boys approved, and Andrew even asked for seconds of ‘zotto’, so it must have gone down well. This recipe was enough for 2 meals for us, so that’s 2 evenings of not having to cook just at the time when we’re all tired and irritable. Result!
230g pearl barley
half a large savoy cabbage, finely chopped
1 medium leek, finely chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
900ml vegetable stock (I use low-salt for toddler)
400g tin canellini beans, drained
3 tbsp dried oregano
50g mature cheddar, grated
Put all the ingredients except the cheddar into the slow cooker pot and stir to mix them together.
Cook on low for 8 hours.
Stir well before serving with a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.
If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a few weeks, you probably know that since I was about 6 weeks pregnant, I haven’t been able to smell food cooking without feeling nauseous. Until about week 15, it wasn’t just nausea – I would be physically sick whenever I smelled it. I didn’t actually realise that it was the food cooking smell that was such a major trigger to my sickness until we went on holiday for a week when I was 10 weeks pregnant: one evening we went out for a meal, and although I didn’t stay long or eat anything except some bread at the pub, when I went back to the house where we were staying I felt better than I had been all week at that time in the evening – it dawned on me that nobody had cooked anything there that evening. Since we got back from that holiday, we’ve not cooked anything in the flat. Don’t feel too sorry for my boys though, because Tom gets a free cooked lunch at work (Cambridge colleges seem to look after their staff), and Andrew has one meal a day heated up from the freezer that were very helpfully cooked by Granny at her house 80 miles away 🙂
Until recently we’ve mainly been eating salad, bread, cooked meats, cheese etc. I realised a while ago that boiling things like pasta, potatoes, rice was OK, because it didn’t smell that bad – the main trigger seems to be anything frying in oil/fat, particularly meat but also veg, or anything roasting in oil/fat, again particularly meat but also veg. So we’ve been able to make simple pasta and potato salads and eat them cold. I also found out relatively recently that putting a pizza in the oven for just 5-10 mins (all it needs in our efficient oven) is bearable, I guess because all it’s doing is melting cheese and heating up rather than actually cooking it. The past few weeks I’ve been able to stand the smell of baking (cakes, biscuits, bread etc.) much more than before.
In the past week or so I’ve been feeling more adventurous in terms of thinking of things that I could ‘cook’ that don’t smell – basically this means avoiding frying or roasting. So instead of eating just cold things, we’ve actually had some ‘cooked’ meals. One of the dishes I came up with was a risotto, and it went down very well with both my tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) so I thought I’d blog it, because it’s so quick and easy to do, and really does taste as good as something that requires more ingredients and proper cooking. I don’t add salt to any of our food, both for Andrew’s sake and because I’m not a big fan of even slightly salty food – but this risotto could be made with a stock cube if you’d prefer, by just adding it to the boiling water as the rice and squash boil. I prefer to get all the flavour from the peas, cheese and rosemary in the homemade pesto. The first time I made it I left it veggie, but the second time I added a tin of tuna, because since being pregnant I’ve been more concerned that I get enough protein. It would also work with pulses as protein – I often stick beans in veggie risottos to give them a source of protein.
Anyway, here’s the recipe….
Ingredients – serves 2 adults and a toddler
1 medium butternut squash, skin off and cut into small-ish cubes
1 large mug of rice (I just use long grain for risottos to save on the cost of risotto rice)
100g frozen peas
50g cheese (I used cheddar because I’m not sure I can have parmesan at the moment as all the packs in the supermarket said unpasteurised – I’d probably try parmesan when I’m not pregnant)
olive oil – a few glugs
handful of fresh rosemary (we’re lucky that we have some growing in pots on our balcony – it’s amazing what you can grown even if you live in a flat – we have tomatoes, herbs and lettuce)
Place the squash cubes and rice in a large pan and add boiling water. Leave to boil for about 10 minutes, adding more boiling water if necessary once it starts to get absorbed into the rice.
Meanwhile, cook the frozen peas in the microwave (or in a pan of boiling water). Once cooked, drain any excess water and place in a food processor. (I have one of those small whizzers, so I do half at a time).
Chop the cheese into chunks and place in the food processor, along with the rosemary – remove the leaves from the stalky bits.
Drizzle a glug or two of olive oil into the food processor.
Whizz all the ingredients together until you have a smooth paste, adding more oil if necessary.
Once the rice and squash are cooked, add the pesto to them and stir well to spread it around evenly. (If there is excess water in the pan, drain before adding the pesto, but it’s best to add a bit of water at a time to the rice and squash when they’re cooking, so you don’t end up with an excess in the first place.)
Serve straight away. It also freezes well for another day – just make sure it’s thoroughly defrosted and heated through again.
When I came across this recipe for Green Risotto, I thought what a great way it is to get toddlers eating the vitamins and iron that are found in spinach and peas, which are not always the most popular of foods amongst our littluns, though I’m glad to say that so far (I’m aware this can change) ours has shown no signs of being fussy, and it surprises me sometimes just how much of all kids of different foods he’ll try and polish off. At the moment for him it’s more a case of he can’t (in great quantities) rather than he won’t eat spinach, because he only has two teeth (I think he’s put all his developmental effort in mastering walking recently), so I have to cut it up very small for him otherwise he can’t seem to ‘gum’ it very easily like he can other foods. But at least he’s not against the flavour. Peas are definitely one of his favourites – not sure whether it’s the fun of picking them up one by one and perfecting his pincer movement, or the flavour, but all I care about is that he eats them.
The veggies are whizzed up in this risotto, so even the most suspecting toddler won’t be able to see actual pieces of veg, just a lovely thick bright green sauce. And let’s face it, bright colours are so appealing when you’re a little person – that’s why all their toys/books/clothes etc. are brightly coloured. I thought it would be a good idea to share this recipe on the blog, for anyone who’s wondering how they can get those all important vitamins and iron into their littluns who might not be too keen on eating visible plant life.
The recipe is based on one from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew got for his birthday from Uncle Matt and Aunty Helen, along with a gorgeous little kids’ apron for when he’s old enough to help me cook. The book is a fantastic mix of snacks, mains, breakfasts and puddings, all beautifully illustrated with Paddington Bear doing bits of cooking. I’d definitely recommend it if you’d like some child-friendly recipe ideas, for getting them involved in both cooking and eating. This recipe was about half the quantities that it said for 4-6 people, and it served two adults and a hungry toddler just right. It would also freeze well, but I didn’t buy enough spinach this time to make double and freeze half; I’m already planning on doing that next time. I used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan, because I forgot to buy the special cheese and we always have the ordinary stuff in the fridge – it worked fine. I also replaced the butter with olive oil, because we were running a bit low and I needed it for the other recipe I was making that night (post to follow…) So that’s enough of an intro…. on with the green stuff!
some dried or fresh mint leaves (how much is up to you – depends how minty you want it)
125g frozen peas
500ml vegetable stock (I used reduced salt stock)
50g cheddar cheese
150g rice (I don’t usually buy risotto rice on the grounds that ordinary long grain rice tastes nice too and is considerably cheaper when you’re on a budget like us)
basil leaves (optional)
Wash the spinach and cut off any tough stalks.
Put it in a saucepan of boiling water for just a minute, to blanch. Drain, keeping the water.
In the same water, cook the peas and drain. Liquidise the spinach, mint and peas, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary (whoops I burnt out the motor in my aging liquidiser doing this! Time for a new one I think).
Heat the stock and grate the cheese.
Chop the onion finely. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two. You should hear the rice crackling when it’s ready for the next stage.
Add 2 ladlefuls of stock and watch, stirring often, until it is absorbed into the rice. Carry on, a ladleful at a time, until the rice is almost completely soft but the risotto is still creamy. This should take about 20 minutes.
Now stir in the spinach, mint and pea puree, and half the cheese. Add the basil leaves if you have them.