I am going to tell a story about rice pilaf, or risotto. I can’t promise it to be very interesting, in fact, I suspect it to be rather dull. A story to sigh and roll your eyes at and think, “Oh dear, Harriet.”

This story started several months ago, in France, during a determined search for the ideal risotto recipe. I wrote down several variations with the intention of trying them all when I returned to New Zealand and had more people to cook for and hopefully in a kitchen where the bench was not the top of my washing machine.

Friday night I pulled from my recipe folder one I had titled, ‘Soubise-French risotto.’ I can’t recall writing this title down and a quick Google search informed me that soubise is, in actual fact, a bechamel based sauce with a puree of cooked onions. I ignored the incorrect title and made it anyway. I chopped many onions, for which I donned a pair of swimming goggles, a couple of garlic cloves and cooked them in glorious amounts of butter. Adding two diced fennel bulbs, then stirring through washed basmati rice. Soon pouring in a considerable slug of white wine and a half litre of stock. The aroma of onions and garlic cooking in butter filled our little kitchen and, I thought, this might work out.

I envisaged a rice dish that was tender to the fork, each grain of rice delicate and well formed. However, the result was neither a pilaf nor a risotto, but more like a mashed potato made of rice. On a cold winter night, perhaps for a lonesome meal for one, a rice mash could be quite lovely, if ever so self-indulgent. But not a dish to serve to guests, and not a dish to show the subtle fresh flavour of fennel.

I spent today thinking how it could have been improved. I believe I have the answers now. (I sometimes worry at the state of my life that a failed rice pilaf is the first thing on my mind.) I won’t bore you with the analysis of such a matter, but rather suggest a delicious way to use up leftover rice mash-risotto-pilaf. I stirred through a beaten egg, molded the mixture into patties and fried them in a little butter until golden brown. I do enjoy a risotto cake, though normally I would add some tinned tuna or salmon, or chopped fresh coriander and sweet chilli sauce to create something akin to Thai fish cakes. All I added for extra seasoning was a little bit, merely a glistening, of lemon vinaigrette after the rice cakes were cooked. The acidity of the citrus cut the richness of the rice cakes and the butter, adding a pleasant tang. A lemon chutney would also have added a hint of a sharper flavour.


I do intend to improve the mistitled recipe, so stay tuned for the next thrilling installment…

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