“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon
So on Saturday 9 February I was planning to have quadrilogie de canard for lunch at LeVaffiue, Les Get in the French Alps. But life intervened and instead, I found myself lying in agony in the snow with a broken femur beside Le Yeti ski lift waiting for a helicopter medevac.
That evening I was planning to have a lovely cosy dinner with Nick and our friends in Geneva. But life intervened and instead I found myself under general anaesthetic on an operating table in a hospital in Thono- les-Bains, having a titanium rod inserted into my right femur.
The following morning I was planning to fly back to London and go to work. But life intervened and instead I found myself in a hospital ward with 21 staples and a nerve block catheter in my grotesquely swollen right leg, wondering how I would ever walk again.
That week I was planning to go to work, to cook dinners for Nick, to play with my cats, and maybe to catch up with friends. But life intervened and instead I found myself stuck in a foreign hospital, battling anaemia and fighting with two insurance companies over when I could go home and where I would go once I got to the UK, seeing as my house had no facilities for the mobility impaired.
Last Thursday I was planning to fly to Cape Town for my annual dose of South African sunshine. But life intervened and instead I found myself in The Blackheath Hospital, learning how to walk up stair on crutches. Utterly terrifying.
Last Saturday I was planning to be one of the main speakers at the South African Food & Wine Blogger Indaba conference. But life intervened and instead I found myself housebound and on crutches, learning to give myself daily anti-coagulant injections and following proceedings at the Indaba via Twitter.
Yup, life sure happens with a vengeance while you are busy making other plans.
Somewhat less dramatically, back in the summer, Nick planned to grow some South African gem squash on is allotment. Sure – four of the plants produced masses of beautiful dark green, perfectly round gem squash. But the other plant became known as The Mutant. We’re not sure of a foreign seed managed to slip into the packet; or whether there was some sort of illicit affair going on between a gem squash and a neighbouring zucchini. But the end result was that what Nick harvested was nothing like the gem squash he was planning.
It was roughly the shape of a very small watermelon – elongated yet chunky – and with a green skin like a zucchini but not as soft. Inside, it was pretty much as expected – more pippy than a zucchini and stringier than a gem squash. I have no idea what a botanist would have called this mutant squash, but I decided it was a spaghetti squash. Besides – who wants to bookmark a recipe called “Mutant Squash Risotto”? Having learnt my lesson last time I cooked spaghetti squash, I already knew better than to try and slice it up and stir fry it like a zucchini – the skin is simply too tough. So I decided to roast it and scoop out the pulp to make risotto – the spaghetti strand-like texture of the cooked squash means no pureeing or mashing is necessary – just smoosh it with a fork. The flavour of the squash flesh is quite bland so I pepped up the recipe with salty feta and chill but do feel free to play with the flavours – tons of lemon instead of chilli; maybe blue cheese instead of feta; or harissa paste substituted for the chilli. The possibilities are endless. Either way, the end result is like a warm hug in a bowl. So whatever you were planning for dinner, allow life to intervene and try this simple crowd-pleaser.
- 1 spaghetti squash, deseeded and cut into wedges
- butter for roasting
- dried thyme for roasting
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 20g +20g butter
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 300 g of risotto rice (Arborio or Carnarolli)
- 150 ml dry white wine
- 600 ml vegetable stock (I use Marigold bouillon powder)
- 60 g Parmesan cheese, grated
- 100 g feta cheese, crumbled
- salt and pepper to taste
- Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Place the squash wedges skin side down on a baking sheet, dot each with butter and sprinkle liberally with dried thyme. Roast for 45 minutes or until the squash is soft. Scoop the squash flesh off the skin and set aside for later.
- In the meantime, melt 20g of the butter together with the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and sauté until the onion is translucent and soft but do not let it brown. Add the rice and cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly stir so that each grain is well-coated with oil/butter. Add the wine and keep stirring until the liquid has been absorbed almost completely.
- Add the hot stock a ladleful at a time (probably about 150-200 ml per ladle). Keep stirring until each ladleful has been completely absorbed, but do not let the rice dry out and stick to the pot. Once each ladleful is absorbed, add the next until the stock has all been added. The rice should be soft but each grain should retain some bite in the centre, perfectly al dente, which should take about 20 minutes.
- Once all the stock has been added to the risotto, stir in 1.5 cups of the roasted squash puree (you can freeze the rest to use in vegetable soups) and crumbled feta cheese. Once everything is well combined, stir in the remaining 20g of butter. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Serve immediately garnished with a spoonful of squash flesh and a sprinkle of feta and chilli flakes