Cooking Foods: Grains and Cereals

Couscous

Before you start

For a given volume of dry couscous, use about 20% less volume of water.

Method

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of oil.

Remove from heat and slowly pour in the couscous while stirring gently.

Cover for 2 min, until the couscous has swelled and all the water is absorbed. Add a little more water if the couscous looks too dry. 1-2 pats of butter can also be added, if you wish.

Serve.

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Pasta

Before you start

Pasta must be cooked in a large pot using plenty of water and without the lid on.

Method

Fill a large pot (up to three-quarters full) with water using at least 1 litre (4 cups) for every 100 g. of pasta. Put on high heat and cover.

Once the water is boiling, add the salt (approximately 1,5 teaspoon of coarse salt, or 1 teaspoon of table salt, for every litre of water). The water will stop boiling but will return to a boil soon after.

When the water gets to a rolling boil, you can add the pasta. Stir immediately with a wooden spoon to prevent the pasta from sticking together or to the base of the pot. Continue to cook without the lid on and start measuring the time. Stir briefly from time to time.

The recommended cooking time is written on the box, but it is important to taste it a couple of minutes before the end. Take one sample with a fork. It must be soft on the outside but still firm inside (al dente) offering some resistance between the teeth as you bite it. Continue to cook and taste again until ready.

When the pasta is ready, drain rapidly in a colander previously placed in the kitchen sink. Shake out the water.

Comments

Pasta should not be rinsed since this would wash out the flavour and nutrients. Mix immediately with the prepared sauce.

Serve the pasta in warmed pasta bowls or dishes, but not on plates. The sloping rims of the pasta dish accomplish two important tasks: to retain heat, hence keeping the pasta warm (it gets cold quickly), and to hold the food in the dish, hence helping to roll up spaghetti elegantly using a fork against the rim without using a spoon or knife.

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Quinoa

About quinoa

Quinoa [pr. KEEN-wah] is the seed of a leafy plant that’s distantly related to spinach. It is native to the Andes, where it has been cultivated continuously for more than 5,000 years, earning its nickname of “rice of the Incas”. To this day, it’s an important food in South American cuisine.

It has excellent reserves of protein with better quality than any other grain (it contains all eight essential amino acids). It is also a good source of fibre, potassium and riboflavin, as well as other B vitamins; additionally, it contains magnesium, iron and folic acid. It does not contain any gluten. It may be easily substituted for any other grain, as a side dish, in soups, in salads and even in puddings. It has a slightly crunchy texture, mild flavour which has been compared to that of couscous. In South America it is used to make an alcoholic beverage called chicha.

Method

Tiny and bead-shaped, the ivory-coloured quinoa must be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to remove any residue of a resinous, bitter natural coating called saponin. Place the grains in a fine strainer and hold it under cold running water until the water runs clear, then drain well.

To cook, use two parts liquid to one part quinoa. Combine the liquid and quinoa in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and the germ has spiralled out from each grain, about 15 minutes.

As a side dish, calculate 40-50 g, i.e. 1/4 to 1/3 cup per serving. After cooking, quinoa expands to four times its original volume.

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Rice

Basmati

Method

Rinse the rice before cooking.

Use 2 to 2½ cups of water per cup of rice. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

Add the rice and salt. Cover and cook over very low heat about 15 min without uncovering.

Remove the saucepan from heat. The water should be completely absorbed. Should it not be, cover and simmer for a few more minutes. Let stand, covered, 3-4 min. Serve.

Rice Noodles (Vermicelli)

Fill a pot with water using at least 1 litre (4 cups) for every 100 g. of rice sticks. Put on high heat and cover.

Once the water is boiling, add the salt (about 1 teaspoon for every litre) and the rice sticks.

Cook, uncovered, 4-5 min (or following the instructions on the package) until the rice sticks soften. Drain in a colander.

Risotto

Before you start

Two ingredients are essential to make the a perfect risotto: the right type of rice and a good broth, which must stay really hot while adding it gradually to the rice, so that the temperature of the risotto remains the same.

For the rice, choose one with large grains and high starch content. The three most popular varieties are: Arborio (large and rounded grain, creamy texture, the most popular variety), Carnaroli (longer grain, holds its shape well even when completely cooked, a good choice if you find that your risotto always turns a little mushy), Vialone nano (creamiest, smoothest texture of all). The rice grains should not be rinsed before cooking, since the fine dusting of starch on the grains gives a better texture to the risotto.

For the quantities of rice and broth, when risotto is served as a main course, calculate 80 to100 g of rice per serving (7 to 9 tablespoons) and about 2 to 2,5 times the amount in volume or 2,5 to 2,7 times the amount in weight of broth. It is not possible to be more precise since different grains will absorb a different amount of broth, and evaporation / pan size variations will also affect the optimum ratio.

Method

There are 3 methods to make a risotto. They all start and end in the same way.

1) Initial common step: Melt the butter or oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Sauté the vegetables (usually a chopped onion) over medium-low heat a few minutes, until the onion is translucent, with stirring. Increase the heat to high and pour in the rice. Stir the grains 2 min until translucent, but do not allow them to brown. If the recipe calls for wine, it may be added at this point, after the rice “toasting”.

2a) Traditional method: The hot broth is added gradually, about ½ to ¾ cup at a time, and the mixture is stirred almost continually. Each time that the grains becomes dry, a new addition of broth is made, just enough to cover the rice. It is important to keep the broth hot during the whole preparation. The risotto is ready after about 18-20 min when the grains do not absorb any more liquid, remain separate, and are soft on the outside, but still firm inside (al dente). If there is not enough broth remaining at the end and the rice needs a little more cooking, water may be added. Depending on the recipe, other ingredients may be added during the preparation.

2b) Pressure-cooker time-saving method: After the rice “toasting” step, the hot broth is added all at once. In this case, the amount of liquid is exactly 2,5 times the weight amount of rice (i.e. for 100 g rice, add 250 ml of broth). The pot is closed and brought to high pressure. After only 7 minutes the risotto is ready. I must admit that this is my favourite method, because of its time-saving and consistent quality.

2c) Modern stir-saving method: After the rice “toasting” step, pour in about half of the hot broth, all at once. Cook over low heat 3 min, with constant stirring, then add the remaining stock, cover, and continue to cook about 15 min, stirring only occasionally. If liquid remains at the end, increase the heat to medium and cook uncovered until no liquid runs between the grains when stirred.

3) Final common step: A classic risotto always requires adding a bit of butter or olive oil at the end, with the pan removed from the heat. The purpose is to make the risotto plumper and creamier. I normally omit this addition to make my recipes healthier. However, adding some cheese (if called for in the recipe) and letting the risotto stand 2-3 min before serving is a must.

Comments

In Italy risotto is traditionally served in the same bowls or dishes used for pasta. The sloping rims of the pasta dish help retain the heat and keep the risotto warm.

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