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Mamma Mia

Just under a week now before we go back to Italy! I'm sure you're all sick and tired of hearing about our trips to San Gimignano but oh well. Because there are plenty more of them to come. I just love going back. I've said before that it is my second home because I have some very good friends who are family there. What an honour it is be able to plan a wedding there (just to clarify it's mine).

The routine in the Convento kind of makes the days fly past, which is nice if you're working but when you're on holiday it goes a bit too quickly. But anyway, when I was volunteering there, we would have morning prayer at 7:30am and then breakfast and washing up. Then I would go off and make my bed / tidy my room, because being in the chapel for 7:30 didn't allow for a tidy morning routine (not for me anyway), and then I would get some morning jobs out of the way - sweeping the cloister, cleaning the upper cloister, sorting out the dirty bedding and towels from guests into bags to take to the laundry, or even welcoming new groups in.

Then came lunch. And my bedroom was above the kitchen so if I had half an hour or so to spare before lunch, my bedroom was the wrong place to be. More times than I care to admit it made me wander into the kitchen to see if I could charm Loretta into giving me a taste of what was to come. Sometimes it worked if it was a recipe she particularly wanted me to learn. Other times she made me set the table, knowing what I was up to. Graziella is not as strict and knowing full well my passion for food, lets me taste pretty much everything. Except fish of course.

Often the most simple dishes they make are the most delicious. I've seen both of them work for hours over the perfect sauce or the most succulent meat. But actually some of my favourite meals took them no more than 20 minutes to prepare. On days like that, they prepped big pots of sauce or huge roasting joint of meat for a group that was coming the next day. Anyway, the first time I ever had risotto was in Italy and as you can see from previous recipes, it's a favourite of mine. Thinking about simplicity, I made a risotto that doesn't play to fancy flavours but is so delicious you won't even care.

Onion and Pancetta Risotto

  • 250g arborio rice

  • 750ml chicken stock

  • 2 large white onions, diced

  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced all the way to the root

  • 150g diced smoked pancetta or smoked lardons

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 tsp pepper

  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra to top

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the white onions. Stir them round to cook until they go translucent. Add the pancetta and let that cook.

Add the rice and stir it so that it soaks up all the juice from the onions and the meat. Add the stock little by little and stir it well each time. Make sure the heat isn't too vigorous under the pot because you don't want the stock to evaporate before the rice has had a chance to soak it up. Keep going until the rice is cooked enough that it doesn't stick to your teeth but isn't mushy and still has texture to it.

Stir in the salt, pepper and parmesan and once the cheese has melted in, take the pot off the heat and stir in the spring onions. Simple, delicious and filling. Is there anything better?


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