Mushroom Risotto Pie or the Power of Leftovers

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When I came to Italy, I was amazed how horribly Italians waste food. My flat mates would throw away everything that they had not finished during the dinner; in my perspective you can eat the dish even the day after. From time to time I saw in the garbage a whole loaf of bread; that made me absolutely sick… At least you can give the bread to birds. The fist moths of living together with my Italian bf were a constant fight for the food leftovers – I told we wouldn’t through them away, which confuzzeled him a lot (confuzzeled = confused + puzzled). In general, I can though away only something that is gone, but I prefer to utilize everything before it is wasted. This has nothing to do with greed; it is a matter of respect.
My grandmother was just 4 when the war started – big enough to remember everything. She never spoke about the war, even though many of people of her age or older told us how important it was to keep on studying and helping adults in watching out the fire. The only thing she ever had told me about the war was bread related. She once, when I was a small girl, tried to explain me what was responsibility and that life requires trade-offs. She told me they got a piece of bread per day, and they were three: my granny, her sister and their mother (my grandgrandmother). Each day my grandgrandmother would split this tiny peace in three unequal parts. My grandmother told me, that she was a kid and she was so hungry, as she was growing, but already then she understood that she had right to take just the smallest part of the bread. Her mother was working hard, her sister was studying in school – in her eyes they needed the food more, than herself.

Those 125 grams

During the siege of Leningrad around 5,000 people per DAY died because of hunger only. The piece of bread, 70% of which was not even wheat, but wood shredding, was the only food for the citizens for 900 days. In total, over 800,000 died from starvation. There is no single person with a normal upbringing in St Petersburg who can through away a piece of bread. It has nothing to do with greed; just the price of this bread is way too high to afford putting it to garbage. It is like spitting in your own history. Each time, when you through away good food, you show fantastic disrespect to those people, who are dying because they don’t have it. Since when have people forgotten that for centuries food was synonym for life?
Well, back to the recipe now. What if you cooked too much of risotto? Next day it is not tasty anymore. Solution is an absolutely fantastic risotto pie.
Time of preparation: 20 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Mushroom risotto leftovers or
Rice____________300 grams
Onion___________1/2
Dry mushrooms__ 30 grams
Goat Cheese_____100 grams
1. If you prepare risotto from scratch: put mushrooms into boiling water for 30 minutes. After drain, and save the water. Chop onion; pour oil in the pot, fry onion and mushrooms. Add rice; mix so that every grain is coated with oil. Pour in a splash of broth from mushrooms. Constantly mix till the water evaporates, add another splash then, mix till the liquid evaporates… Repeat this sequence till rice is cooked. Add salt, pepper to taste.
2. Transfer the half of prepared risotto/leftover risotto into the baking dish, put sliced soft goat cheese, sprinkle with dried oregano (any herb you like/have next to you) and cover with the remaining risotto. If you want, sprinkle with grated parmiggiano. Bake on 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes or till golden crust. Super good cold, hot, and on the next day.
For utilizing stale bread you can check stuffed courgettes recipe, for using rice check oven-baked rice, if you have some fried vegetables left roll them into strudel, a lonely cooked potato or a lonely baked aubergine will fit into Balkan cheese pie.

 

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Riso al Forno (Oven-baked Rice)

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In many countries, and Italy is not an exception, the traditional cuisine can be divided into two categories: cucina povera, or the food of the poor, and cucina riccha, the food, which only the rich could afford. In the case of Italy, ironically enough, the poor kitchen represented by pasta and pizza, became world-famous and can be found in the most prestigious restaurants nowadays.
Cucina povera shaped with two main factors: a limited number of ingredients, and the desire to use or preserve everything, without leaving a single piece. Clearly, meat was too expensive and what poor could afford were mainly were left-overs or undesirable parts from the tables of the rich. For the same reason, it seemed unreasonable to eat the whole piece they were able to get straight away, so they salted or dried it, which set up the basis for different hams, proscutto, salami. Fish was preserved in the same way (ironically, for many people nowadays baccalà – the salted cod- is affordable only at Christmas). The foundation of the kitchen were cereals and grain-based dishes, such as pasta in the South, polenta and rice in the North and  gnocchi throughout. Another important and valuable component was bread: even when stale, it was never thrown away, but used in salads, like in traditional Tuscan panzanella, for stuffing the vegetables, for covering dishes, or for coating croquettes and other fried dishes. Usually, dishes were garnished with fruits and vegetables, in many cases gathered from the wild. With this scarcity of products, the poor put a lot of attention to the sauces, combination of ingredients, and possible elements to add the flavor – usually local specialities, available so broadly that they seem to have no value. This diligent research made the kitchen of the poor remarkable in its taste, and with centuries it was escalated till the worlds best restaurants. There are still many exceptional dishes, mainly unknown, which may be found only in some small local osterias. 
This dish though will hardly ever enter the menu: despite being delicious, it’s too rustic and messy in its appearance. Well, as the guys from the Australian Masterchef always say: “The most important is the taste”. And I totally agree with them.

 

Time of preparation: 50 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Rice__________320 grams
Mushrooms____200 grams
Carrots________2
Tomatoes______2
Chili Pepper____1
Parmesan Cheese to taste
Onion_________1/2
Scamorza cheese__180 grams
Soy sauce_____8 tablespoons

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Sicilian Arancini

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Traditional Sicilian dish from rice

Time of preparation: 45 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients:
Round Rice___ 300 grams
Parmesan_50 grams
Olives____10
Cheese___70 grams
Cherry Tomatoes__70 grams
Peas_____ 70 grams
Yolks_____2
Saffron___1 packet
For the breading:
Eggs____ 2
Breadcrumbs
Additionally: One Sicilian boyfriend (or similar) to control the process and crack two eggs (you can guess who asked me to include this “ingredient” in the recipe).

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Blue Cheese Risotto, two recipes

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Blue Cheese Risotto is a dish with minimum ingredients but saturated taste thanks to the cheese

Time of preparation: 40 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients (for two portions):
Rice for risotto __ 200 grams (1 glass)
Blue Cheese____100 grams*
White dry wine ___1 glass (can be replaced with broth)
Parmesan ______30 grams
Vegetable broth/water__500 ml
Onion___________1/2 or one small
Butter___________20 grams
Salt, Pepper
* If you use mild blue cheese, like gorgonzola, 100 grams is the right amount. If you like stronger and more saturated taste, take sharp blue cheese, but it would be better to reduce the amount to 70 grams.

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Vegan Plov (Traditional Russian Dish from Rice)

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Time of preparation: 1 hour Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients (4 portions):
  • Rice ______2 glasses*
  • Chickpeas_ 1.5 glasses
  • Carrots____3 middle
  • Onions____2 big
  • Garlic_____1
  • Oil_______ 1 glass
  • Salt______ 2.5 teaspoons
  • Spices: 1 tablespoon of barberry, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of red pepper
*Basmati or devsira or any sort of long-cooking rice. Never use rice for risotto or semi-ready rice. Continue reading

Risotto with Zucchini and Cheese

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I know, that the photo is ugly, but the dish is amazing and suits even very special occasions
Time of preparation: 35 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Ingredients (for two portions):
  • Rice for risotto __ 200 grams (1 glass)
  • White dry wine ___1 glass
  • Vegetable broth/water__500 ml
  • Onion___________1/2
  • Zucchini_________2
  • Cheese__________100 grams
  • Oil, Salt, Pepper
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