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Youvarlakia is a Greek soup dish made of  lamb and rice balls in an egg and lemon broth.  This is one of my favourites.  For me, it is true comfort food.  Not the most attractive of dishes but as they say, never judge a book by its cover.  What it lacks in plate appeal it certainly makes up for in taste.  The avgolemono broth has a combination of lemon which gives it an acidity with the eggs softening this by creating a creamy richness.  These go together beautifully with the lamb and rice meatballs.  Many Greeks add potatoes and carrots to cook with the broth, but I prefer mine plain or with some wilted spinach.

I can still see my mother at the kitchen table pushing meat and onion through the mincer clamped to the table.  The minced ingredients would then be placed into a large mixing bowl where she would  knead them with her hands for all she was worth.  I am sure looking back that this was a way to get out all her frustrations – and early form of de-stressing.  I now realise that I spent an awful lot of time sitting at the kitchen table watching her cook, learning to judge when to interject with offers of help and when to just keep quiet.  When it came to the task of mincing, I was always desperate to turn the handle, but the occasions that I was honored with this task were few and far between.  When my chance came my fear that if I turned the handle too quickly there might be a nasty accident meant that the turning was painfully slow.  After a couple of minutes my mothers patience ran out and I was relieved of the task for being too slow and sent back to my perch on the kitchen stool!

When I make this dish I am reminded so strongly of my brother.  We knew those little meatballs as hedgehogs because of the spikes of rice that stick out of them.  We both loved them and would always ask my mother to cook them.

Later in life when we returned home for visits there was always the  prior discussions with my mother on what we wanted her to cook for us.  Youvarlakia and Lahanodolmades (the same meat mixture but wrapped in cabbage leaves) were the two favourites that I remembered asking  for – the usual reply back was that they were a lot of work but instead she would cook me something else much nicer.

Except, that was, when I went home and my brother was there.  Then we would get Youvarlakia or Lahanodolmades.  They were his favourite and obviously the importance of pleasing the eldest son was a very big factor for my mother.  When I complained at the table that she never made these for just me, my brother would laugh resting his hand on my arm to demonstrate he meant no malice but silently saying ‘well what do you expect’.  I soon made sure that any future visits coincided with his!

Some recipes call for a little oil or an egg to be added to the meatball ingredients, supposedly to lighten them and perhaps bind the mixture.  I find this makes the broth a little greasy and I feel do not add to the dish.

Youvarlakia Γιουβαρλάκια

450g/1 lb minced lamb

1 onion grated or very finely chopped

35g/2oz long grain rice

1 tbs mint dried

2 tbs parsley finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

flour for coating (to make this gluten free, leave the flour out)

stock (either a stock cube or homemade)

3 large eggs

3 tbs lemon juice

Mix together the meat, onion, rice, mint, parsley and season with the salt and pepper.  I find that it’s best to use your hands.  Knead until very well combined.

Now take a slightly larger tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Roll in the flour to coat.

Put the stock in a pan and bring to a  gentle boil.  Gently drop the floured balls into the stock, cover and lower the heat.  The liquid should just cover all the balls.  Gently simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour a little of the stock into a cup.  This will be used for the sauce.

Avgolemono broth

Separate the eggs.  Whip the egg whites with a little salt until soft peaks are reached.  Continue whipping while adding the yolks, continue to whip, add the lemon juice and then the saved cup of  the now cooled stock a little at a time – the stock needs to have cooled and added a little at a time as you don’t want to curdle the eggs.  I tend to add a little more stock from the pan to the egg and lemon mixture before adding this to the pan with the meatballs.  Once added give the pan a good shake to incorporate the avgolemono broth.   You could use a wooden spoon to mix but the meatballs are prone to breaking.

Place the balls into a soup dish and spoon over the broth, serving with some extra lemon.

The downside of the avgolemono broth is once made it doesn’t like to be reheated.  The way to get round this is to make the meatballs and remove them from the stock.  The meatballs can be refrigerated separately.  If you are planning on making the meatballs last two meals then it is best to reheat half the meatballs with half the stock, making fresh avgolemono broth each time.

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Pumpkin Risotto

risotto

Risotto is definitely a dish that has to be made with love and care.  For me it is comfort food.  Last time I made risotto it was for Sophia my daughter.  We both stood and chatted taking it in turns to stir, only slowing or stopping when talk got a little more interesting than making the risotto.  I also had a small problem of mid way through cooking that two more places at the table were added so to eek out the risotto I served it with rocket and a little balsamic vinegar.

I don’t know why, but I go through phases with risotto – it’s a fantastic way to use up the last little bits of the roast chicken, using the chicken carcass for the stock.  I rely on a risotto to help with the glut of courgettes from the garden, or as in this case a large pumpkin that needed eating.

I am also prone to being a little fussy with my risotto and there are certain types I really like.  Riso Superfino Carnaroli is one of them.  I am a bit of a sucker for nice packaging and Riso Superfino Carnaroli certainly ticks that box with its white cotton sack and bright red writing.  The downside is I can never bring myself to throw those little bags away after I have used up all the rice.  I have a little growing collection of them in my kitchen drawer.  I am getting to the point that I need to find a use for them otherwise they are going to have to go because space is getting very tight.

Getoilyrice

Risotto is easy to make, but it doesn’t like being reheated as the rice goes stodgy and is unpleasant.  If all the ingredients are prepared before hand it makes the standing and stirring a rather relaxing experience.  I tend to let my mind wander to what I am going to cook tomorrow or looking out of the window to see if the dog has disappeared into the vegetable garden which he knows is an out of bounds area.

There are no hard and fast rules with what you add to the risotto except it is best cooked and eaten straight away.  Risotto rice is different from other rices – so if you haven’t got a risotto rice in the cupboard leave it until you do.  Finally, as you add the stock remember to keep it simmering as you don’t want to slow down the cooking of the rice.

There are two methods of cooking the pumpkin for this recipe either on the top of the stove in a pan with foil or roasted in the oven.  I find the top of the stove the quickest.

Pumpkin MD

Pumpkin Risotto  (feeds 2 as a main)

Ingredients

1 small/medium onion chopped finely

Slice of pumpkin –  cut into bite-sized cubes

1 wine glass of white wine

2/3 tbs oil

570ml/1 pint vegetable stock/or chicken stock

200g/7 oz risotto rice

small piece of butter (optional)

Parmesan cheese grated

Method

Put the stock in a pan and leave on a slow simmer.  You need to keep the stock at roughly the same temperature as the risotto – I sometimes put the stock in a jug and keep heating it in the microwave as I need it.

Heat the oil in a large pan then add the onion, turn down the heat so that the onion gently cooks and becomes translucent without browning.

While the onion is slowly cooking put the pumpkin in a pan with a knob of butter or oil and some silver foil over the top to act as a loose-fitting lid, this will help the pumpkin to steam and retain its moisture.  It cooks fairly quickly, about 10mins – you know when its cooked as you can just put a knife into it.  When it is cooked, save some of the pumpkin putting the rest in a blender to puree.  Set aside, it will be added later to the risotto.  Or roast in the oven with garlic and a little olive oil drizzled over.  I find a pan on top of the stove the quickest.

When the onion is cooked, add the rice and turn the heat up, keep stirring so all the rice is coated in the oil.   The rice should very quickly start to change colour slightly. Now add the white wine, stir slowly until all the wine is absorbed then start to add the stock, a cup at a time.  Once added the risotto needs to be stirred.  There is no need for frantic stirring, just enough so that the rice doesn’t catch or start to stick to the bottom of the pan.  As the rice absorbs all the liquid add some more stock and keep going until the rice is cooked.  If you run out of stock and the rice still needs further cooking just add some boiled water.  There is not exact timing for risotto – you need to taste as you go along, you will know when it’s cooked because it will taste as you would like to eat it, some like it al dente and others a little softer.  Just before the risotto is cooked add the pumpkin chunks and puree, and any further seasoning.

As you take the risotto off the heat add a knob of butter and the grated parmesan cheese.  Stir, leave for a couple of minutes to stand and then serve.

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