Other beetroot risotto recipes call for boiling or roasting whole beetroot before chopping and adding them to the risotto. That’s fine if you remember to get the beetroot on two hours before dinner. But if you want an easy one-pot thirty minute meal, then try it this way. The raw grated beetroot is cooked just enough by the time the risotto is ready.
Fresh pasta dough can be made with just flour and water, or with a mixture of eggs and water, with whole eggs and/or egg yolks. The more egg you use the easier the dough will be to handle and cook, and the more yolks you use the richer its golden colour will be. Use genuinely free range eggs, as it is the hens’ diet of green things which makes their egg yolks orange. If you don’t have special ‘OO’ (very fine) pasta flour ‘di grano duro’ (made from hard wheat, with high protein content), you can use regular plain flour and it will still work. I recommend the pasta flour available from Shipton Mill.
Grains and pulses make a classic combination, one found all over the world, from rice and beans in Latin America to millet and peanut sauce in West Africa. No doubt these various pairings have evolved over the millennia due to their satisfyingly savoury flavours, their high nutritional value (the combination can cover all amino acid bases, in place of meat) and their ability to fill up the whole family at a low price.
The traditional Puglian fare of ciceri e tria is one of these dishes – a wholesome mix of earthy chickpeas and wholemeal pasta strips. ‘Ciceri’ are an old Puglian variety of chickpea, slightly and smaller and tastier than the regular ones. ‘Tria’ is an old word for pasta, coming from the Arabic word ‘ittriya’. Comparable dishes are found all over Italy, such as the pasta e fagioli from Emilia in the north. But ciceri e tria, also known as cece e ttria, cicerittria or similar, is particularly intriguing due to its mysterious ancient origins, which link in to the whole debate over the origins of pasta itself. One clue might lie in the fact that some of the pasta, unusually, is fried, while the rest is boiled.
We had a wonderful bowl of ciceri e tria at Anna Carmela’s fantastic trattoria ‘Le Zie’ in Lecce soon after we’d arrived off the boat from Greece on our culinary road trip of Europe in 2008. It was the perfect introduction to our Italian food investigations, raising all sorts of questions about continuity and change in Puglia, its regional distinction from the rest of the Italian peninsula and links to the medieval Arab world. We didn’t even realise then that we’d be musing on ciceri e tria again four months later in Morocco when we found a strikingly similar dish there called ‘trid’…
Risotto made with red wine and/or radicchio is a classic Italian dish. This version is an attempt to recreate the one I had at La Badia restaurant outside Orvieto, Umbria, with my friends Libby and Tim the week before their wedding. It is rich, savoury and melts in the mouth. Go easy on the cheese and herbs – it’s always tempting to be generous but they can overpower the dish.