Val O'Connor's kitchen creations
From risotto with an Irish twist to Malaysian-inspired chicken rice, Valerie O'Connor's food is real easy and real tasty
Bacon and Cabbage Risotto
Why not? The flavours work so well with potatoes, why not in this creamy, delicious and indulgent dish? People often shy away from making risotto as you do have to stand by the pot and stir it regularly, but you will have a meal ready in 30 minutes or less so it's really not that big a deal. Whenever I have left-over chicken stock, I make risotto; it's handy to keep a couple of those small bottles of wine in the cupboard as the wine really makes a difference to the end result. Risotto is versatile, so try a blue cheese and chorizo combo or the classic pea and prawn.
You will need
50ml olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, washed and finely chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
200g risotto rice
150ml white wine
200g bacon bits or lardons
2-4 large cabbage leaves, washed with the spines taken out and shredded
Salt and pepper
100g Parmesan cheese
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion and celery for about 5-7 minutes until they soften. Meanwhile, put the stock in a pot to heat it up; have a ladle handy.
Add the rice to the pan and give it a good stir to coat it. Now add the wine and stir it well, turn up the heat so that the wine evaporates.
Add the bacon bits to the pan with the cabbage and stir everything to coat.
Ladle in some stock, add a pinch of salt and a shake or two of black pepper to the pan and stir well. Stir the pan every minute or so to ensure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom.
Add more stock and salt and pepper, repeating the process until the rice stops absorbing and is looking creamy and has a slight bite to it.
Now turn off the heat and add your butter and Parmesan cheese to the pan, don't stir it, just cover it and leave it for a few minutes for everything to melt. Now stir it and your risotto is ready! Enjoy this Irish twist on an Italian classic!
Using brown rice instead of pasta makes this meal in a bowl into a gluten-free feast. Using a flavour-loaded, deep-green kale like cavolo nero will give you a delicious soup where you can taste all the different ingredients in each spoonful. Top with shaved Parmesan and serve with a hunk of crusty bread and you have the perfect winter warmer that's also really good for you.
2-4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 sticks celery, diced
100g brown basmati rice, preferably soaked for at least an hour
50ml white wine, optional
2 litres fresh chicken stock or vegetable stock, heated up for the soup
2 large tomatoes
400g tin cannellini beans
2 large handfuls kale, washed and roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for serving
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over a medium heat and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Put a lid on the pot and allow the veg to 'sweat' for about 15 minutes.
Place the rice in a a sieve and rinse it, turn up the heat and add it to the pot. Give it a good stir and add the wine, if using. This will give the soup a deep, intense flavour. Let it bubble for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol.
Add the stock to the pot with the tomatoes. Cook for 20 minutes on a simmer. Check to see if the rice is nearly done and then add the beans and the kale and cook gently for a further 10 minutes.
Taste the soup and season with sea salt and black pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan shavings. The gentle cooking of this soup ensures you still have all the different colours and textures in your bowl.
Enjoy with a glass of that white wine you opened!
Hainan Chicken Rice
This recipe is based on the famous Hainan Chicken Rice I enjoyed many moons ago on a trip to Penang in Malaysia where there is an entire street devoted to chicken rice restaurants. Chicken rice is the simplest, yet most satisfying meal; clean and uncomplicated, yet totally nourishing. Traditionally, it's served as a portion of the cooked chicken alongside a bowl of the hot stock and jasmine rice that has been cooked in the chicken stock. Kids love this because of the different parts and because you get to add soy sauce!
1 free range/organic chicken, whole
2 onions, peeled
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 star anise
1 tsp salt
1 piece kombu seaweed, optional
100g jasmine rice per person
Soy sauce, chopped red chilli, spring onions, chopped, and coriander, chopped, to serve
Pop the whole chicken into the pot and cover with cold water, stick the cloves into one of the peeled onions and add this to the pot along with the all the remaining onion, the garlic, ginger, star anise, peppercorns, salt and kombu (if using).
Put the pot onto the heat and slowly bring it to a boil (this will take a while). Take care to skim off any scum as this will affect the final stock. Skim it at least four times.
Once the pot is boiling turn the heat down to a tiny simmer, you just want the pot to bubble very gently.
Leave it to cook like this for an hour, then take the chicken out of the liquid using a large slotted spoon and strain it in a colander. The residual heat will continue cooking the chicken and will leave you with tender meat as well as a lovely clear chicken broth.
To cook the rice Hainan style, melt a little chicken skin in a medium pot until the fat begins to come out, add 100g rice per person to the pot and give it a stir. Pour over some of your hot chicken stock - enough to cover the rice by an extra 1cm of depth - clamp a tight lid on, turn the heat down to minimum and cook the rice for 20 minutes. When you take the lid off, fork the rice over to fluff it up.
You can cook it like this an hour or two before you need it, then serve your Hainan Rice with the chicken, the hot broth and perhaps some little dipping bowls of chilli sauce and soy sauce, or make a dipping sauce by stir-frying some ginger and garlic in sesame oil and mixing in some oyster sauce.