A couple of weeks ago I had my Mother coming round for dinner and a catch up. Having not seen her for a while and it being just the two of us, I thought I’d create something that was wholly Mum friendly, so this was concocted almost entirely with her in mind. Now, she’s really not the worlds greatest carnivore; there was a rather awkward moment at the dinner table last Christmas as my brother walked into the room triumphant with the main dish, a beautiful joint of roast beef. We all gasped as he proudly carved thick slices of perfectly rare and juicy cow, all salvivating with anticipation, stomaches starting to grumble in appreciation. That is all bar one, my Mum’s face was contorted in horror, her face pale, eyes watering, my poor Brother had to quickly whisk her portion away and incinerate it under the grill before the colour came back to her cheeks.
So with meat out of the equation I had a quick flick through my Ottolenghi book for inspiration, desiring something that was both heartily nutritious and interesting to eat with plenty of flavours. In the end I based it on a rice and quinoa salad, adding in a few of my favourite ingredients. It was so good I’ve eaten it several times since and where the mild ricotta melds the compononents, bringing everything together harmoniously, I’ve also found the dish is quite magnificent when this is substituted for a sweet British blue sheeps cheese, Beenleigh Blue or the blue goats cheese Harbourne Blue; the blue cheese offering delightfully tangy nuggets and contrasting deliciously with the crunch of toasty nuts, sweet bursts of cherries and earthiness of the beetroot. The combination of different textures and flavours are really very satisfying and tick off plenty of things on the my ‘Mum likes list’ to create a thoroughly wholesome and hearty dish. As you might expect, I served this with bread; this time a simple spelt flour flatbread enhanced with a combination of fennel and nigella seeds.
100g red camargue and wild rice
100g red and white quinoa with bulger wheat (I used this combination from Waitrose but plain quinoa would be fine too)
200g ricotta or roughly half that amount of your choice of blue cheese crumbled (I have used both Beenleigh Blue and Harbourne Blue to stunning effect)
50g shelled pistachios lightly toasted and roughly chopped
50g sour cherries roughly chopped
1 large onion, finely sliced
knob of ginger finely chopped or grated
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 good sized beetroot
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees. Wrap the beetroot in foil and pop in the oven for around 1.5 hours or until tender, remove and allow to cool before peeling, slicing and chopping into chunks.
Warm some olive oil in a frying pan and slowly cook the onion until it starts to brown, add the garlic and ginger and keep cooking until it all caramelises.
In two separate pans cook the rice and quinoa acording to packet instructions, making sure not to over cook as you want both to retain some bite. Drain, then toss through the onion mixture, adding plenty of seasoning, then the pistachios, sour cherries and cheese while still warm. Finally throw in the beetroot so as not to turn everything completely red.
Serves 2 - 4 depending on appetites with warm flatbread.