Tuesday 14 August 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook goes to Italy

Last night I cooked risotto. I hadn't cooked a risotto in years, but then swinging into Louise's deli on my way to the beach my eye caught the box of arborio rice. I'll make it with spinach I thought and some of the white wine we have right now. "Good with a stock made with dried mushrooms," advised Mary, who was a cook before she worked in this friendly neighbourhood corner store.

So that's what I did. I soaked some shitake mushrooms (organic sun-dried), cooked up some of Basil's spinach, chopped up one of Malcolm's onions and began the process of making risotto, which as you know is the very opposite of fast food. The key to risotto is not the ingredients - though those matter too of course - good olive oil and stock. The key is attention: risotto demands you stand and stir by the stove for half an hour, focusing on the gradual absorption of stock by those fat glistening grains of rice, so that by the end you have a rich and creamy dish, perhaps one of the most satisfying you can serve.

It's all about being there. Or here as the case may be.

In my travelling meat and fish-eating days I would have made risotto with clams or squid (known as risotto nero due to its inky-black colour), or with a chicken stock and butter and served with a good sprinkling of Parmesan. But last night I found this is truly a great vegan and low carbon dish, and goes beautifully with spinach on the side, served with lemon and olive oil. (Arborio is also a "dry" rice - which unlike "wet" rice does not leak methane into the atmosphere).

It wouldn't of course make a great Bring-to-Share dish, which is the main theme of the Cookbook recipes. In fact many of the classic Italian dishes, due to their immediate cooking and eating styles, are not well suited to our ad hoc gatherings (though pasta does make a resilient salad base). However in this great season of basil and tomatoes, something Italian is definitely in order. So here is a quick pizza recipe I learned from the Sunrise Festival, along with other summer festival favourites, chai and elderflower champagne. We cooked these pizzas in individual round tins in the wood-fired earth ovens (made from scratch on site with a tank that used the heat from the ovens to warm the water for washing up afterwards). You can bake these in an ordinary oven however in a big rectangular tin. Cut into squares and eat warm.

Oh, and if you are heading down to Sunrise Off-grid this month, don't forget to call in to the Tin Village and make one yourself!

Sunrise Pizza

All ingredients are organic and as local as possible

2 cups wholewheat flour
2 cups spelt flour
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cups of warm water

Tomatoes (tinned or fresh), chopped
Black olives, chopped
Onions, sliced
Basil and parsley, chopped
Red, green and yellow peppers, sliced
Mushrooms, sliced
Cheese (we used local Cheddar but traditionally this would mozzarella), grated
Sunflower oil, for basting tin

Make the dough one hour before you need to cook the pizza. Put yeast and sugar into a cup of warm water. Leave at least five minutes to activate. Mix flours and salt in a basin, add yeast and sugar mix and the rest of the warm water and mix in with hands until dough is of "birds nest" consistency.

Put on a floured surface. Don't worry if it feels a bit rough and dry at first as working the dough makes it sticky and you will be adding more flour as you go. There is a lot of mystique about kneading dough, but when you get down to it and your hands are pushing and pulling crossways, you somehow know how to make all the moves instinctively. Human beings have been making bread for thousands of years and somehow our ancestral hands know just what to do. After about ten minutes, or when the dough is elastic and smooth, place back into basin and cover with a damp cloth and put in a warm place for an hour.

Assemble ingredients. You can be really inventive with these - as any trip to a pizzeria will tell you. One thing we learned from the earth ovens, those delicious thin pizzas don't need great heavy toppings or the dough doesn't cook through. So resist piling up your plate!

When the dough has risen, take out and "knock back" the dough for a couple of minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin (an empty bottle will do if you haven't got one - though traditionally you would stretch the dough by hand). Grease your baking dish with sunflower oil. Place dough into the dish and add ingredients as evenly as possible, with tomato at the base and grated cheese at the top. Put into a hot oven for 2o minutes.

Buon appetito!

Tin Village will be running pizza workshops at Sunrise Off-grid Festival this month, 23-27 August. Check out the series of great Transition talks running there too.

Images: pasta al fresco with local spinach and tomatoes and home-grown basil from Introduction to Food Patterns; lighting the earth ovens; pizza waiting to go into the oven; rolling dough and making pizzas all at Tin village, Sunrise Festival, 2012.

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