Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.


There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

Simple, leeky, cheesy risotto

In the interests of getting the allotment ready for spring, all our leeks have now been pulled up. Some of them were reasonably sized but mostly they were on the slim side. However, as with many things in life, size is not everything and our leeks were full of flavour. I have been enjoying them in various forms since the turn of the year (lemon, goats cheese and leek tart was my highlight) but last week I turned them into a cheesy risotto. What I really wanted was some pasta in a cheese sauce with sautéed leeks but having given up wheat for Lent, that was off the menu…

IMG_9311Here is my recipe. I ate this quantity all by myself (in my defence I have been running a lot further lately and that makes for hunger) but it would be enough for two if accompanied by a chunky salad.

150g leek

1 clove of garlic

5g butter

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

100g arborio risotto rice

125ml of white wine (optional – just add 125ml more stock if you don’t have any wine)

200ml of vegetable stock (I just use basic stock cubes)

50g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated (or whatever cheese you fancy, parmesan would likely work)

a few chopped walnuts to garnish

The first thing you must do with leeks is wash them very carefully. This means splitting them lengthwise from a few cm into the white part right through the leafier, green part. Put them, upside down, under cold, running water and gently clean the inner parts of the leaves, making sure there is no dirt or grit remaining. Shake the leeks to get rid of excess water then slice them. I like mine about half to one cm wide and I use the whole leek, white and green.


Melt the butter in the vegetable oil and gently fry the leeks and garlic with the lid on the pan, lifting it now and again to stir.

When the leeks are softened, add the rice and stir well for a minute or two.

Add the wine and cook everything gently, stirring regularly so that the rice doesn’t stick. As the mixture becomes drier add more hot stock. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain some bite. About the time that you add the last bit of stock, add the grated cheese too. It doesn’t matter if you put it in at the end, it will melt with the heat of the cooked rice.

Taste your risotto and add any salt or pepper you think necessary, or indeed, more cheese.

Serve with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Or a great big handful, like I did, if you prefer.IMG_9537




Cheap Dinners: Parsnip and Pea Risotto

IMG_6213This is a recipe more or less pinched from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Year book. The only difference is I tend to use basic ingredients and faff around less . Parsnip is lovely and sweet, which is often a good thing when it comes to feeding children. My lot scoffed their dinner last night without a single question. I estimate that it cost about £2 to make enough for my family of 2 adults and three young children (there must have been easily enough for 4 adults). You could add a bit more if you like grated parmesan cheese on top.


350g Arborio Risotto Rice

1 onion, finely diced

approximately 6 medium parsnips with the woody core removed and diced

1-2 cloves or garlic

150g frozen peas

vegetable stock (I think it was about a litre but I could be way off there)


Cook the onion, garlic and parsnip in a large pan on a fairly low heat with the lid on, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Hopefully you will be softening them without adding colour and retaining plenty of moisture at the same time.

While you are doing this, get your stock ready. I make mine with either oxo cubes or powdered vegetable boullon. I make it in a jug and don’t worry about keeping it boiling like the purists say you should.

Now add the rice and stir it well. I’m sure traditional risotto recipes get you to gently cook the rice in butter etc but I just make sure it’s well stirred in.

Add a good slosh of stock and stir well. You should have just about covered the rice.

Keep the lid on the pan and let it simmer away gently but keep checking on it and giving it a stir – YOU DON”T WANT IT TO STICK TO THE PAN!!!

When the first lot of stock has been mostly absorbed, add the peas and another slosh of stock. If you are inexperienced with risotto you will have to add smaller amounts of stock and keep checking it more often. If you are used to making it you will probably have a handle on how much stock it will take to cook your rice.

Keep adding stock, stirring the rice and testing it regularly until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the rice is cooked. It should be soft but still retain a bit of ‘bite’. It will be sticky –  that is a good thing. Add salt and pepper if you like it.

Serve in a nice bowl with some parmesan cheese on top and a side salad or some steamed green vegetables.

Other Ideas…

The great thing about risotto is that you can fling pretty much anything at it. I think I added a little chopped red pepper last night. If you had some white wine that needed using up you could replace some of the stock with that. This is a good dinner for one – just use less of everything. If you like to prepare your meal in advance, you can chop the vegetables, measure out the rice and probably make the stock too. Then all you need to do is put it together and keep stirring. I must have done this many times with a baby on one hip (probably not a good idea really, either for you spine or the risk of burns). Finally, if you are feeding a baby or toddler it can be a good meal to practice using a spoon. The rice is so sticky that generally it stays put when they try to feed themselves.

Sorry this recipe is a bit vague. That’s the way I like them. Enjoy.




The joy of the season – part one – food

Warning! There is a lot of food bragging in this post.

I sent the Husband down to the allotment last night for some purple sprouting broccoli (expensive food number one, currently retailing at £1.50 for 200g). We have lots of it at the moment, especially as we have recently been away for ten days.

I love how it looks close up, the colours are so subtle

Last night we had it with a roast chicken dinner, shared with my Mum, brother and sister-in-law. Today it accompanied the most successful risotto I’ve ever made.

I know it doesn’t look like much but it contained plenty of wine and a decent (if I do say so myself) home made chicken stock. You certainly don’t need much meat to make a tasty chicken, mushroom and sweetcorn risotto. This is all I had left when I’d completely picked over last night’s chicken carcass.

I wonder how many other people do this? If I buy a whole chicken I always boil up the carcass either for soup or stock. Separating out all the meat from the tiny bones is not my favourite job but I always enjoy the end result. Today’s stock was one I was particularly pleased with.

Whilst I was rooting around in the fridge. looking for carrots and celery for my stock, I discovered that last night, the Husband had also brought back ( ta-daaaaa) the first asparagus of the year (expensive food number two).

I steamed it in the top pan of the steamer with the broccoli underneath. By some fluke I managed to cook them both right, tender but with some bite still.

They really were a treat. The Middle Miss had some and gave her approval. Then she looked at the risotto and this is how the  cross examination conversation went.

Middle Miss: Mum, are these mushrooms in here?

Me: No. (wondering if this is the ‘right’ answer)

Middle Miss: What are they then Mum? (sceptically)

Me: Hmm, I’ve forgotten what are those things called (I was buying time to think of an answer) Oh, yes, I remember, they’re champignons.

And that was that. No further questions, my lord. The jury was out. Thankfully a positive verdict was returned. All three of them polished off their ‘champignon’ risotto.