Sunday, October 02, 2005

Scaled-Down, Tarted-Up Homey Dinner for 4

Today at about 4:30pm I realized that we’d all be home for dinner together, and wanted to make something special. I decided to do a scaled down version of the “Tarted up Homey Dinner for 6”, from the Dinner chapter.

The menu in its entirety includes a chicory salad, a ham, a pea orzotto with roast leeks and poached apricots as pudding. But that sounded like way too much work (and food) for us. Tonight we had the orzotto, the leeks and the apricots. I’ll make the chicory salad as a starter when I finally get around to making one of Nigella’s many hams. (There isn’t a particular ham recipe provided for this menu; she says to do another of her ham recipes in the book).

138. Pea Orzotto
139. Roast Leeks
140. Poached Pistachio-sprinkled apricots stuffed with crème fraiche

Dad and I went to the supermarket at about 5 to get the ingredients - MISTAKE. Safeway at 5:00pm on a Sunday afternoon is chock-a-block full of people. Screaming kids, oldies, teens, the whole gamut. It's rather stressful, especially when you're supertired and still have the shadow of a hangover upon you. I'm so sticking to weekday shopping from now on!

On the way home, I realised that the apricots weren't exactly appropriate for a quickly put-together dinner - they need to be soaked overnight and then baked. D'oh! But at the risk of becoming a Rachel Ray (or as I might have called her when I was a high-schooler, "Rachel GAY"), I decided to speed up the preparation of the apricots. See, I'm now working five days a week, and I've got no idea when the next time we'll all be together for a meal. Instead of soaking them overnight, I simmered them in water for about five minutes, then made the syrup (poaching liquid, cardamom, sugar, lemon juice) and baked them as per the recipe.

After baking, you're supposed to let them cool in syrup and then chill well. To speed up the chilling, I decanted the whole lot into a cold container and thence into the fridge. By the time dinner was cooked and eaten, the apricots were at a perfect eating temperature.

Whilst they were in the oven, I got on with the orzotto.

The orzotto is just like a risotto, except with pearl barley in place of the rice. It takes a bit longer to cook than rice, (Nigella says 45 minutes) but given that my risotti always seem to take that long anyway, I was prepared to stir. I put Blur’s 13 album on and read the latest issues of delicious and Australian Gourmet Traveller whilst stirring. Luckily, the whole stirring-and-adding-stock process only took 45 minutes. I also did the leeks whilst cooking the barley. They're super-easy, just slice into logs, and cook in the oven with a bit of oil and salt.

Once the barley is cooked, you add cooked peas (some whole, some mushed), crème fraiche (I am sooo over double cream right now) and cheese (all I had was pecorino). Then let it sit for five minutes and dig in.

Peas and Orzotto

Pea Orzotto

Roast Leeks

I really liked the orzotto, as did my mother, but I don't think my dad and brother were too keen - they were suspiciously quiet throughout the whole meal. It was a bit salty, which I blame on the stock - Massel Chicken Style stock. Next time I use it, I think I'll have to dilute it quite a bit. I loved the texture of the orzotto, and as Nigella suggests, would love to make up my own flavours.

Mum: Ooh, can I take a leek?
Me: Sure, if you have to.

After we ate dinner, I organised the apricots - retrieving the now cool apricots from the fridge, and stuffing half of them with Greek yogurt. (I didn't think we'd be able to finish them all). Nigella says you can use crème fraiche or yogurt, and there really is only so much cholesterol a girl can handle in one meal. To finish them off, you pour some syrup over and then sprinkle with crushed pistachios, which is just beautiful.

Pistachio Sprinkled Poached Apricots

Again, Mum and I absolutely loved these, whilst my dad and brother weren't so impressed. My dad just doesn't like yogurt, whereas I adore it. I also loved the perfumed syrup, which was intense but not soap-like. (Sometimes the desserts you get at Indian restaurants have a distinct soap-like whiff to them). I've got half the apricots (unstuffed) left over, with accompanying syrup, so I think I'll make them into a fruit salad for my breakfast tomorrow.

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