I did not mean to make this today. I did not imagine it, did not plan it, did not conceive of it in advance. I wandered into my kitchen around midday with a gardener and a friend to feed, and myself, and pottered absently at the stove throwing whatever came to hand into my, wide, shallow pan. I very rarely cook with onions these days, as any great quantity of them upsets my stomach – such are the perks of growing older with a compromised immune system and a body that seems to find a new failing on a near-weekly basis – but I inexplicably find myself still with half a fridge drawer of them, red and white and peeling at the edges, and so I shrug and accept the consequences. A tin of cannellini beans at eye level, a bag of basic rice so old that it was 45p when I bought it (it has risen to 65p now, and I no longer shop at that particular supermarket). I want comfort, soft and creamy, but subtle and delicate too. I want a grandmotherly enveloping hug in a bowl, nothing spicy nor too complicated. I roll up my sleeves and tie my hair back in a headscarf, one of dozens of offcuts of fabric from the local haberdashery, and I start to stir. The result is not quite a soup, not quite a risotto, a not-quite homage to the Avgolemono that sat on the back of the stove as a permanent fixture throughout my childhood, although minus the ‘avgo’. We all eat in contented silence, satiated, sighing, and simply full.
Served 4 generously at 29p each
1 large onion, 6p (59p/1kg, Farm Stores at Asda)
Half a bulb of garlic, 10p (60p/3 bulbs, Growers Selection at Asda)
300g plain white rice, 13p (45p/1kg, Smartprice at Asda)
100ml white wine, beer or cider (optional), 39p (£2.98/750ml, Fre Chardonnay at Asda)
1l vegetable stock, 3p (39p/12 stock cubes, Asda)
400g white beans (I used cannellini), 42p (42p/400g, Asda)
A pinch of salt, <1p (27p/750g, Asda Table Salt)
A generous ¼ tsp black pepper, <1p (80p/100g, Natco or KTC brand)
1 tbsp lemon juice, 2p (39p/250ml, lemon juice from concentrate, Asda)
First peel and finely slice your onion, and peel and roughly chop your garlic. Toss into a large, shallow bottomed pan (I use this one). Peel the garlic cloves and add them whole, or slice any particularly chubby ones lengthways if you’re worried about them not cooking through. Add the oil (or not if you’re avoiding it, a splash of water will do) and cook on a very gentle heat for around 8 minutes to soften and knock the raw edges off.
Add the rice, and the wine (or beer or cider) if using. Turn up the heat to medium, and stir well to stop the rice from sticking and burning. Add a ladle (or splash) of stock, and stir in. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans and add those too. Stir again – stirring is paramount, and add a splash more stock. Repeat this exercise as required; splash, simmer, stir, splash, simmer, stir, until the rice is soft and swollen and the liquid thick and soupy. This usually takes around 30 minutes for long grain rice, and can be up to 45 minutes for fancier varieties such as Arborio.
When the rice is cooked to your liking (some people like it a little al dente – that is, with a bit of ‘bite’ to it, whereas I prefer it falling apart in my mouth), season it to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the lemon juice over the top. Serve immediately, warm and inviting.
Notes: One of my little party of three added a copious amount of hard strong cheese to their portion, which they thoroughly enjoyed, so you might want to give that a whirl. Obviously if you are vegan, nooch or your favourite ‘hard strong cheese’ substitute will do the trick.
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