Recipe of the week……………….spelt.

Mushroom spelt risotto with melted camembert

Spelt is one of the world’s oldest wheat grain varieties. It is great as an alternative to rice in a risotto as it retains a wonderfully crunchy texture and unlike rice, you can add the stock all at once and let the risotto simmer away on the stove – making it low maintenance as well as delicious.

Spelt and Mushroom risotto 2

Serves: 4

300 g spelt grains

15 g dried porcini

150 ml boiling water

100 g butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbs chopped fresh thyme

500 g mixed mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped

150 ml red wine

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

50 g Parmesan, grated

150 g Camembert, sliced

salt and pepper

freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Soak the spelt grains in boiling water for 20 minutes. Soak the porcini in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain spelt and shake dry. Drain and chop the mushrooms, reserve the liquid.

Melt half the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and half the thyme over a low heat for 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the mushrooms and porcini and stir-fry until starting to soften. Add the spelt and stir for 1 minute then pour in the wine and boil until it is all but absorbed.

Meanwhile bring the stock and reserved porcini liquid to the boil in a separate pan. Add 750 ml to the risotto and cook gently over a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stock is almost absorbed and the spelt, tender. Add a little more stock if needed (any left over stock can be reserved, chilled in the fridge for up to 3 days).

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan and half the Camembert, cover and leave to melt for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a small frying pan and add the remaining thyme leaves. Cook gently over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until the butter turns a golden brown. Serve the risotto topped with the remaining camembert and drizzled with the thyme butter.

Tip: Spelt is available from larger supermarkets as well as health food stores.

Recipe of the week…………pearl barley

Barley, roasted vegetable and caramelized garlic risotto


Serves: 4
Pearl barley makes a great alternative to arborio rice in risottos as it doesn’t require constant stirring and gives a lovely nutty texture to the dish. Here it is combined with oven roasted vegetables and caramelised garlic.

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 large onions

8 large garlic cloves

250 g carrots, roughly chopped

250 g baby beetroot, cut into wedges

250 g peeled pumpkin, diced

2 sprigs each of fresh thyme and rosemary

350 g pearl barley

100 ml dry white wine

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

25 g freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, plus a few leaves

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 c/fan forced 180c and line a roasting tin with baking paper. Cut 1 onion into thin wedges and place in the prepared tin with the garlic, carrots, beetroot, pumpkin, herbs and salt and pepper. Add half the oil, stir well and roast for 45-50 minutes, stirring half way through until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, after the vegetables have been cooking for 15 minutes, finely chop the remaining onion. Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion with a little salt and pepper for 5 minutes until softened. Add the barely and stir for 1 minute until all the grains are glossy. Add the wine and boil until evaporated, then add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered for 30 minutes until the barley is al dente and the liquid absorbed.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and stir into the barley with the cheese and herbs. Season to taste and serve with extra cheese and basil leaves.



Where Switzerland and Italy meet…

A very good friend and fellow food writer Judy Ridgway has agreed to share some of her experiences of the cuisine of Ticino in southern Switzerland where she and her husband spend much of their time enjoying not only the wonderful scenery of the area, but the many local specialities including polenta, risotto and a wonderful chocolate cake made with leftover bread.

A little bit about Judy

As well as being an author and journalist Judy is one of the world’s leading olive oil experts. She lives part of the year in the UK and part in the Ticino region of Switzerland.  She also spends time travelling in the olive oil producing countries, tasting the oils,  meeting the growers and gathering traditional and local recipes to use in her articles and blogs. She is the author of more than 65 books on many aspects of food and wine. Her most recent book is “Catering for a Wedding”, published in May.  She also has a new book coming out in September, written with co-author Dr, Simon Poole, about the amazing health benefits of olive oil entitled The Olive Oil Diet.   


When I first arrived in the Ticino region of southern Switzerland I thought I had moved directly into Italy. The language was Italian and so was the food. But it did not take too long to find that first impressions can be deceptive. Yes, there is lots of pasta on the menus and plenty of pizza around but once you look beyond these symbols of Italian influence there is a traditional Ticinese cuisine to be found.

In days gone by this small region tucked into the southern foothills of the Swiss alps was extremely isolated and it took the building of the main road and railway through the Gottardo tunnels to bring in any kind of outside influence. The people were poor and mountain living precarious with only the flat-bottomed valleys to provide a small agricultural base. The diet was based on the three staples of polenta, bread and potatoes, served with cheese from the local cattle or with wild meat stews made with rabbit or mountain goat on high days and holidays.

Today polenta remains one of the principle foods of the region. However, polenta here is not the fine, yellow cornmeal mush of the rest of the northern Italian plain. In the Ticino there is

no separation out of the finer parts of the corn kernels and so the polenta is darker in colour and coarser in texture. It also has a stronger deliciously specific flavour its own. A real speciality from the Magadino plain north of lake Maggiore is Rosa del Ticino polenta made from a variety of corn with red grains. Polenta takes quite a while to cook and involves a good deal of stirring so most people buy it on the markets where it is made in the open air in large cauldrons, steaming away over a wood fire. Such cauldrons of polenta are also a feature of open air events where the polenta is served not with one of the many local cheeses but with a large slice of Gorgonzola.

You either love polenta, as I do, or you hate it. If you are among the latter Ticinese risotto is the answer. This is a slightly later introduction from Lombardy but the Ticinese have made it their own, growing rice in the Terreni di Maggia and using Ticino Merlot wines and saffron from the Valais to flavour the dish. (see recipe). One of the best ways to serve Ticinese risotto is with the local Luganighetta.


These are thin pork sausages shaped into a Catherine wheel and grilled on an open fire. They will be a feature on the menu of your local Grotto.

A grotto is not, as I first thought, a local cave or feature of the landscape but a rustic restaurant where much of the cooking and the eating is done outside. Only very traditional dishes are served and most of the ingredients are locally produced. Here you will find the salumi or air-dried products of the region and a range of goat’s and ewe’s milk cheeses which are quite different to the traditional Swiss mountain cheeses. Look out too for Ticinese Minestrone without the pasta found in Italian versions of the soup, Busecca, a tripe soup made with a vegetable soffritto and borlotti beans and Tortelli, or Torta del Pane, a cake made from stale bread.

There are literally hundreds of recipes for Torta del Pane. Every cook in the region has their own recipe for it. At one time it was served for breakfast, at lunch time and as an evening snack. Old bread, flavoured with amoretti biscuits is the base of the cake. These ingredients are mixed with eggs and a variety of other flavouring such as cinnamon, chocolate, raisins and pine nuts (See recipe) Stale bread in the Ticino usually means a wholegrain or dark bread. Not for the Ticinese the rather papery white bread of the Lombardy plains. This is the one area where the northern influences of German-speaking Switzerland come into play and the bread shops are a delight to behold with an array of two dozen or more different breads and rolls.

Finally, no Ticinese meal is complete without a glass of Ticino Merlot. This local wine comes in white, rose and red versions, all pressed from the local Merlot variety. In the grottos the wine is served in little jugs and poured into small earthenware bowls. In more up-market restaurants the wine comes in bottles and may have been aged in oak barrels to give more body to the wine. All the wines are rather different to Merlot wines from other areas.

They have a much more fruity and less furry character.


Lou Blog Risotto

Risotto, here as in other areas is traditionally made with butter. However, if you want to cut down on your saturated fat intake or are vegan it can be made using the same amount of olive oil as butter. If you live in the Lugano area of the Ticino you can buy Swiss olive oil which is pressed from olives grown round the shores of Lake Lugano.

800ml Chicken stock

1 teaspoon powdered saffron

100g butter

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

200g risotto rice

1 glass white Ticinese Merlot

100g freshly grated Parmesan

Place the stock in a pan and heat gently. Add the saffron and stir to dissolve the

saffron. Keep hot.

Gently heat the butter in another pan and fry the onion until it turns a light gold in

colour. Add the rice and stir well.

Add the glass of wine next and Turn up the heat. Stir again until all the liquid has

been absorbed.

Gradually add ladlefuls of stock to the rice, little by little, stirring all the time.

The rice should be cooked but not too dense after about 20 minutes.

Remove from the fire and rest for a minute. Then stir in the parmesan cheese and




Lou blog torta de pane

Choose a wholemeal or dark bread for this recipe. Do not remove the crusts before weighing for the recipe. Do not bother with a knife or toothpick to test the interior of the cake as it should remain slightly wet.

200g stale bread

500m milk

100g sugar

50g butter

1 egg

25g cocoa

50g rasisn

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Grated rind of 1 lemon

1 small glass grappa

50g pine nuts

Set the oven to 170C and grease and line a small square tray-bake tin with baking


Cut the bread into cubes and place in a bowl. Pour the boiling milk over the top and

leave to stand for six hours or overnight. Crush the soaked bread with your hands,

taking time to work all the bits of crust into the mixture. Do not use a good processor

or the mixture will be too fine.

Add all the remaining ingredients, except the pine nuts, stirring between the additions

to get a smooth mix. Spoon into the prepared baking tin and sprinkle with the pine


 Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Turn the heat up to 180C and continue

cooking for a further 45 minutes.

Leave to cook and then turn out to serve.