Guest Food Blogger Jo Orr: elevating basics with, ahem, Champagne

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We’re back with guest food blogger Jo Orr who this week is suggesting elevating basics for a bit of a treat by adding Champagne and, um, Viper’s Bugloss, it’s not often you hear that mentioned in a recipe….

This week I wanted to elevate simple ingredients, a bag of rice and a couple of unripe pears, to something decadent and truly delicious. And what better way to do this than by using Champagne and a good bottle of Merlot?

With the Champagne recipe there is a glass left over which you can sip as you stir, which always makes risotto-making more pleasurable. The risotto itself is kept utterly simple (there’s no stock used, just boiling water) to allow the Champagne flavour to really shine through. Make sure you add the Champagne in two lots- once at the beginning and again right at the end so that the flavour is really distinct. You can of course use a bottle of Prosecco if you prefer. Likewise with the Scottish mussels- just steam them for a minute in a tablespoon of water or white wine and they will fling their shells wide to reveal watery blue and silver insides and little mouthfuls of succulent flesh. I find this dish so pleasing because from a couple of humble ingredients I can create something so elegant and rich-tasting.

I had a few pears lurking at the bottom of the fruit bowl this week that were steadfastly refusing to ripen. I decided that the only way to soften the brutes was to give them a good poaching in syrupy red wine and spices- star anise, vanilla, cloves and cinnamon. The pears surrendered, becoming silkily tender and a fabulous shade of garnet. For a bit of crunch I added a pistahcio praline, and for those who wanted extra sweetness there was a scoop of Honey Ice Cream.

I do hope you make the ice cream- there’s no need to churn it in an ice cream maker, just chuck it in the freezer and give it the odd stir- simple. Each time you make it you can try a honey made from different plants- chestnut for something dark and rich, almost bitter; lavender or heather honey for something more floral; Viper’s Bugloss for something unusual. Or just keep it simple and use regular runny honey. Whatever you try, I hope you enjoy it!

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Champagne Risotto with Mussels:

Ingredients: 600 ml Champagne, 500g arborio rice, 3 shallots, 1 stick of celery,1 tbsp of olive oil and 25g butter, 1 litre hot water, 3 tbsp Mascarpone, 40g butter, 50g grated Parmesan.

Method: Finely chop the celery and shallots and sweat them with a good pinch of salt in the foaming butter and olive oil for 5 mins then add the rinsed rice and stir for 30 secs to coat the rice.
Add 300ml of Champagne. Once this is absorbed add ladlefuls of hot water until the rice is al dente (usually about 20 mins).
Stir through the mascarpone, parmesan, butter and 300ml Champagne.
Steam the mussels- once you have cleaned the mussels and cut off the beards (and discarded any open ones) add them to a pot with a tablespoon of water or wine, pop the lid on and steam for 1-2 mins. As soon as they have thrown open their shells they are ready. Serve on top of the risotto with a glass of Champagne.

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Spiced Poached Pears with Pistachio Praline and Honey Ice Cream

Ingredients: 4 pears, 225g caster, 1 bottle of red wine, 1 vanilla pod, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise, 3 cloves, a sprig of thyme

Method: Peel the pears keeping the stalk. Place them gently into a pan with the wine and spices- bring to the boil then simmer for 20-30 mins. The pears are done when you can insert a cocktail stick with ease. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon then carry on cooking the wine on a high heat until the liquid is reduced by half and is syrupy in texture.

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For the praline: 1 tsp veg oil for greasing the parchment paper, 50g pistachios, 100g caster.

Method: Place a sheet of parchment on a flat baking sheet and brush with the veg oil.
Put the sugar into a pan on medium heat and wait, without stirring, for the sugar to turn molten and a deep caramel colour. Add the nuts and quickly stir through then pour onto the baking sheet. Leave to harden then crack into chunks using the point of a strong knife.

For the Honey Ice Cream: 600ml whole milk, 300ml single cream, 280ml honey.

Method: Put the milk, cream and honey into a pan on a medium heat and stir. Allow the mixture to slowly come to a boil- as soon as it is boiling pour into a bowl and allow to cool. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for 2-3 hrs then give it a good stir to break up the ice crystals. Do this twice more every 3 hrs. Take out of the freezer for 20mins before serving to allow the ice cream to soften.

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  • Maggi Wilson says:

    I would never have thought of this as a combination, the champagne and risotto I mean, but this definitely has to be worth a try. Both recipes look so tempting as always!

  • Jo Orr says:

    Maggi- thank you so much!! I hope you give them a try!!

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