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Basics: the ‘how to’ of basic dishes

Elvis Elvis

This section is for the basics for stock, tomato sauce, dressings, marinade, risotto, cous cous, and will be updated over the next month. This week we have Vegetable stock, vinaigrette dressing, tomato sauce, risotto and polenta.

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Vegetable stock

  • 750g-1kg (1½ -2lb) mixed vegetables (peeled, trimmed, and chopped)
  • 1 cup mixture of fresh herbs
  • lemon zest or grated lemon rind from ½ a lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Place all ingredients in a stock pot or large saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour.
  2. Remove from heat, then strain stock into a container. The safest way to do this is to ladle the soup into a strainer sitting over a large pot. Remove the vegetables from the strainer.
  3. Store stock in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze up to 6 months.
  4. The cooked vegetables can be used mashed, in vegetable patties, or savoury muffins.

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Vinaigrette dressing

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 ½ tbs red or white wine vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dijion mustard or similar (optional)
  • pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Place all ingredients in a screw top jar or bottle and shake well to combine. Or if you prefer, place in a bowl and whisk together. I prefer to use a bottle which can then be placed on the table together with salads. People can choose to add a dressing if they wish. The oil and vinegar separate quickly and to combine them its easy to shake the bottle.

Basics: the how to of basic dishes

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Tomato sauce

  • 1 onion (peeled, diced)
  • 1 large garlic cloved (crushed)
  • 700g (1¼ lb) ripe tomatoes (peeled, chopped) or use chopped tinned tomatoes
  • 1 cup of fresh basil or 1 tbs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs olive oil (or use less oil and use stock to keep onions moist while cooking)
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Add tomatoes, herbs, and seasoning (salt and pepper). Simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Purée the sauce using a hand held blender or a food processor.

Tip: to crush garlic, leave clove unpeeled and place on a chopping board. Using the side of a large knife, squash clove by pressing down on the side of the knife. Remove skin, sprinkle a little salt on clove and using the side of the knife again, keep squashing the garlic until smooth.

Dicing vegetables means to chop into small pieces. For carrots, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half lengthwise again. Then turn carrot around and cut across. If the carrot is large, cut each half into 3 lengths. For onions, cut in half, then place each half cut side down on the chopping board. Cut into 4 pieces lengthwise, then cut across. In tomato sauce, it’s better to have these vegetables finely diced.

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Risotto

In risotto, the rice dominates and so only a small amount of vegetables should be added to the dish. This recipe uses vegetable stock instead of the usual chicken stock.

  • 350g Arborio rice
  • 1 onion (sliced thinly)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 60g butter
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 100g parmesan (grated)
  • 2 litres vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and half the butter.
  2. Add onion and garlic and fry gently until onion is transparent.
  3. Add rice and stir using wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes on low heat.
  4. Add two ladles of stock and stir. Keep rice on a simmer. When the rice absorbs the stock add another couple of ladles. Repeat until the rice is cooked. Traditionally it is cooked until ‘al dente’ – slightly undercooked.
  5. When cooked, stir in remaining butter and parmesan. Season and serve

This is the basic risotto recipe. You can add leeks, porcini mushrooms for a richer flavour. Replace butter with the olive oil or simply use stock to cook the onions and garlic.

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Polenta

Polenta is very popular in northern Italy. I remember being in a seaside town called San Bartolomeo al Mare (near Genova) in the middle of winter and finding many places selling polenta with various sauces. They were catering to the many visitors from further north enjoying the seaside.

Polenta is made from cornmeal. The most important thing when cooking polenta is to stir constantly to prevent lumps from forming.

You’ll need 1.25 litres salted water, 250g polenta flour (cornmeal).

Bring the salted water to the boil. Add the polenta in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the polenta comes away from the sides of the saucepan. Turn the heat down to simmer and cover the saucepan with a lid. Cook for another 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Serve as is from the pot, or turn out onto a wooden board and allow it to set. Store in the fridge wrapped in a tea towel.

When the polenta has set you can slice it and grill. Serve with cheese sprinkled over the top, or with a mushroom sauce. It is also good with ratatouille or other types of stewed vegetables.