Hunger Management

'Rice' to the occasion with a creamy, cheesy risoni

ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Risoni - rice-shaped pasta - can be eaten with a spoon, on the couch, for maximum comfort

May seems a strange month to be thinking about comfort food in Singapore. The days are supposed to be scorching, or at least very hot, and I should be hankering after salads and such.

Not this year. Those April thundery showers have lingered, giving us a few wet days that are blissfully cool, and I think of hotpots and congee.

Another one of my favourite comfort foods is pasta.

I don't often have it with cream sauces because these are usually too rich. However, some days just call for a big bowl of creamy, cheesy pasta, eaten out of a deep bowl in front of the television.

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This week's recipe is simple as can be, with everything available in most supermarkets.

Instead of penne, my favourite pasta shape and the one I use by default, I have opted for risoni. You might know it by its Greek name, orzo.

Like other pasta shapes, it is made with durum wheat, but shaped like a large grain of rice.

Cook it in plenty of salted, boiling water. I cannot stress how important it is to use a large pot to allow the grains to circulate and cook properly.

For this recipe, because the pasta spends time in the sauce before it is served, stop cooking the risoni two minutes before the recommended cooking time on the box.

If you dare, stop the cooking three minutes before the recommended cooking time for a firmer bite.

If you cannot find risoni, penne, farfalle or fusili will work as well.

  • RISONI WITH SMOKED PORK, MUSHROOMS AND PEAS 

  • INGREDIENTS

    500g frozen peas
    2 Tbs salt 
    Large onion, 250g to 300g 
    500g white button or Swiss 
    brown mushrooms, or a mix of both 
    300g smoked pork neck
    200g parmesan cheese

    500g risoni (above)
    1 Tbs cooking oil 
    200ml cooking cream 
    Salt to taste 
    Freshly ground black pepper

    METHOD 

    1. The night before cooking, move the peas from freezer to fridge. On the day of cooking, pour the peas into a colander, rinse under running water and let drain. 

    2. Add the salt to a large pot of water, bring to the boil. 

    3. In the meantime, peel the onion and chop finely. Remove and discard the mushroom stems; and slice the caps thickly. Dice the smoked pork into cubes as small or large as you like. 

    4. Grate the cheese. 

    5. When the water comes to a boil, add the risoni and set a timer to go off two minutes before the recommended cooking time on the pasta box. For example, if it is 11 minutes, set the alarm to go off at nine minutes, then turn off the heat and drain the pasta in a colander. 

    6. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large pan set over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about one minute. Add the cubed pork neck and cook another two to three minutes. Then add the mushrooms and saute two to three minutes. Pour in the cooking cream and the peas. Stir the contents of the pan well and cook until the cream bubbles. Add the cooked risoni and mix it in with the other ingredients. It will soak up some of the cream. Add the cheese and mix well. Have a taste and add salt if needed. 

    7. Ladle the pasta into bowls, sprinkle with the freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

    Serves six to eight

However, with risoni, you can spoon up the grains, always more friendly and comforting than stabbing pasta with a fork. Spaghetti and other long pasta won't work as well.

The meat part of the sauce is smoked pork neck, which is not as salty as bacon.

Find it in the deli meats section of the supermarket. If it is not available, try smoked pork shoulder or thick slices of ham or Canadian bacon.

Mushrooms are non-negotiable and feel free to use more exotic ones than the rather prosaic button and Swiss brown mushrooms indicated in the recipe.

If you can buy fresh morels without needing to take out a second mortgage on your home, go for it. Their earthy flavour will be so delightful in the finished dish.

Even the peas can be swopped. I happen to love them, but know that not everyone does.

I had considered using kale, thinly sliced into ribbons, but it seems so "of the moment" and I want a timeless dish. Of course you can use it, or cubed zucchini or spinach leaves.

To make a sauce, I turn to cooking cream, also available in supermarkets. It has emulsifiers and stabilisers added to it so the cream does not split when cooked.

Instead, you get a smooth sauce - nothing to sniff at, especially if you have watched with dismay as the fat in heavy cream floats on top of a sauce.

Grated parmesan cheese thickens it a little. Buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself. It is just a little elbow grease for a huge reward.

The pasta starts soaking up the sauce when it hits the pan - another compelling reason not to overcook it. Add the cheese, mix that in, until the whole dish has a wavy quality.

Then work fast. Dish it out, stake your place in front of the telly and enjoy your bowl of comfort.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline ''Rice' to the occasion'. Print Edition | Subscribe