It's funny how going overseas can make you reasses your life back home. Everytime I go on a holiday I keep a journal, mainly because I like writing, but also I have this great fear that when I'm old I'm going to forget all the things I've done and seen, who I've met, what I ate. Anyway, it gives me my own little space to write down my thoughts and reflections. Without a doubt, every diary has ended up with a crumpled page at the back with goals and aspirations for life for when I return back home.
This time, while I was away, I spent a lot of time contemplating about becoming a "grown up". I had watched Lars and the Real Girl on the plane over and the insanely beautifully attractive Ryan Gosling character asked his brother when the moment was when he knew he had become a man. His response was that he wasn't sure, that it just happens. That idea kinda stuck with me. Without getting all "not a girl, not yet a woman" à la Britney Spears on you I like to think I'm in the transitional stage between being an awkard, unsure teenager to a fresh, young, independent, adult...and I like it.
After recently becoming single after a good few years with a steady boyfriend, I've started to spend quite a fair bit of time by myself and with my friends. No longer do I feel embarrassed by eating alone at a cafe. In fact I quite like it because it gives me ample opportunity to get some good people watching in. I've reconnected with old friends and made new ones and all just by being "me" - no high school identity or work connection to hide behind.
Today I got my full adult licence which means no more gawky P plates hanging off my car (and I can legally drink then drive, woo). And just the other day I went into the bank, opened up a new long term savings account and spent a good while talking about interest rates (and actually understood what it meant). I even filed some of my superannuation forms the other day (riveting stuff). And I've started a new savings plan to hopefully one day own a property. What the hell, I know.
How does this relate to food? Well I've also been thinking about grown up meals, about those standard basics that you carry with you your whole life that you whip out when friends or family come over. To me, that directed my thought to risotto - that great dish that, although requires attention, pays off in the end always. My mum is honestly the greatest risotto maker ever, her beautifully simple recipe always ends in a soft, silky consistency but with enough substance to hold itself. She's ace.
This is my version, using pearl barley instead of arborio rice but you can use whichever you prefer, with roasted fennel, lemon, crunchy walnuts and parmesan, of course.
Pearl Barley Risotto
1 large fennel bulb, cut into sizeable chunks lengthways
1 brown onion
6 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds, dry roasted in a pan and then ground up
2 cups of pearl barly
1 litre vegetable stock + 1 cup of water
1 cup white wine
80g walnut pieces, roasted
Handful of fresh parsley
1 lemon, zest and juice
Extra parmesan or some soft cheese to serve - either feta or goats cheese (I use goats cheese cos I love it)
Olive oil, salt, pepper
First off get the fennel roasting. Cut up, drizzle with some olive oil and salt and place on a baking tray. Grab a piece of baking paper that's large enough to cover the fennel, scrunch up and run under some water. Unscrunch and lay over the fennel, tucking in the sides. Grab 4 of the 6 cloves of garlic, add a dash of olive oil and wrap in aluminium foil. Whack it on the same tray with the fennel. Place the fennel in a preheated oven at 120 degrees celsius and bake for about 20 minutes (nows a good time to roast the walnuts too - but keep checking on them, they should be done after about 5-10 mins). After 20 minutes, take the baking paper off and turn up to 150 and bake for a further 20 minutes (should be done by the time the risotto is ready).
Now for the risotto. Finely dice the onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Place in a deep saucepan over a medium heat with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Fry until translucent and golden, pour in the roasted and pounded up fennel seeds and chuck in the pearl barley. Stir the barley to coat in the onion and oil and then pour in the cup of white wine, bring to a simmer for about 4 minutes.
Now's the time to add the vegetable stock - pour in 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition over a low-medium heat. Do not add another cup until the liquid from the previous cup has all but been absorbed. Continue until all the 4 cups of stock and 1 extra cup of water have been absobed in. This is my mums trick - with the addition of the last cup, add in the chopped up parmesan and place a lid on the saucepan, turn down to a really low heat and leave for about 10 minutes. When 10 minutes is up, stir the risotto and it should be really creamy and thick but not gluggy. Just before serving, squeeze the lemon juice in, add the zest and stir through the fresh parsley. And don't forget the sweet roasted garlic in the oven - squeeze this into the risotto too but be careful it will be hot and stir thoroughly to distribute through.
Serve with a wedge of golden roasted fennel, some more parsley, a handful of roasted walnuts and a few dollops of goats cheese/feta cheese or parmesan shavings.