According to the calendar, we are in the midst of autumn, but by anyone’s thermometer (scientific or intuitive) it’s a balmy Indian summer. Wondering what to cook to capture the harvest?
One of my favourite indulgent dishes to have is a creamy, rich mushroom risotto, though I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t deliver much nutrition. Often made with modified white rice and too much butter, salt and cheese, there’s a reason why it’s a popular restaurant dish. At home I’ve been experimenting with different grains and vegetables in my risottos and have settled on a blend of pearled spelt and pearled barley for the right combination of chewy texture, nutty taste and wholegrain nutrition. As for veg, the extended warm weather means that there’s lots of late summer crops still available!
Spelt is an ancient grain related to wheat that is enjoying a major renaissance these days, especially for those with wheat intolerance. As spelt has not been chemically altered or hybridised over its 8,000 year history as a crop, it’s appealing to any of us who want to eat unrefined, whole grains. Though I have yet to visit a spelt farm here, I’ve enjoyed spelt products from British producers such as Sharpham Park and Doves Farm and our local bakers at Cornfield Bakery. Interestingly, since heritage wheat crops such as spelt have deeper root systems compared to modern varieties, they have been more resilient to the drought conditions that affected many wheat crops earlier this year.
For my spelt risottos I use Sharpham Park’s organic pearled spelt (they actually call them ‘speltottos’ now). My first risotto is almost paella-like with saffron and strips of roasted red pepper, topped with slow roasted cherry tomatoes. It pairs really well with rosé wine and I usually use a bit of what I’m drinking to make the risotto. Instead of cheese, a little bit of cream or even natural Greek yoghurt works wonders when stirred in at the end of cooking.
This next one can be made in either autumn or spring, as these ingredients tend to be harvested in both seasons: beetroot, spring onions and pea shoots. I roast the beetroot in the oven with thyme, and once chopped into cubes, I stir them in halfway through cooking the spelt and barley. The beetroot colours the whole dish, while the crunchy spring onions balance its sweetness.
It’s only a matter of time now until pumpkins will be in season and pumpkin risotto awaits!