Last week while my car was being repaired, I was forced to think about my all-too-often impulse to “run to the grocery store” to pick up something for dinner. Run meaning, of course, drive. I’m sorry to say that it took me not having my car to look at the food I already had and to cook dinner from my pantry and freezer instead. I even made a brilliant discovery from a picked-over bunch of grapes sitting on the counter. Okay, I know grapes aren’t exactly local this time of year but in this case, the sustainable act of cooking at home with ingredients I already had made me realize I should be doing this much more often.
I think I’m pretty good about not wasting food but since the average American throws away 14% of their groceries while millions of people are going hungry at the same time, I’ve started to think that I need to be better than pretty good about it. Cooking the majority of our meals at home helps a lot, as does turning our food waste into compost for our garden and shopping once a week at the farmers market. Uneaten food decaying in landfills contributes significant amounts of methane, not to mention the impact of everyone making frequent trips to the grocery store for one or two items. If you use food you already have and add a little creativity, you might come up with some delicious meals without having to go further than your own kitchen.
I found some dried porcini mushrooms, frozen peas, chicken broth, an onion that was beginning to sprout, large amounts of garlic from a bag purchased at the farmers market last fall and some arborio rice I’m ashamed to say I bought ages ago, stuck in the pantry and never even opened. Perfect. I had all the ingredients I needed for risotto. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be running errands, I decided that I really should take advantage of the sunshine and work in the garden and not in the kitchen. I pulled out the crock pot and tried a slow cooker risotto. It was actually pretty good — not quite as creamy as the traditional method of slowly adding broth and stirring, but very respectable, especially for a weeknight meal. The roasted grapes, however, are company-worthy and simple beyond belief.
Slow Cooker Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms and Peas
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup hot water
3 T butter (or combination of olive oil & butter)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup peas
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Soak dried mushrooms in hot water for at least 30 minutes.
Melt butter in large skillet. Saute onions until tender, about 10 minutes. Add rice and garlic and continue cooking a few minutes until the rice is well coated.
Add wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated.
Put mixture in slow cooker along with chicken broth, mushrooms and soaking liquid.
Cook on high for an hour. Open lid and stir. Taste rice for doneness. Continue cooking on high until rice is done, about 1/2 an hour more.
Stir in grated cheese, peas, salt & pepper to taste. (Since I used frozen peas, leaving the lid down for a few extra minutes was enough to thaw and warm them up).
Serve with extra butter, cheese and minced herbs on top, if you like.
And now for the roasted grapes I’ve been bragging about. What can I say? The first time I made them, I was already roasting vegetables and threw in some small bunches for the last 40 minutes or so (at 400 degrees). If you feel like you need to do something, you can coat them with olive oil, but even that isn’t necessary. The grape juice oozes out and caramelizes on it’s own. It adds the perfect amount of sweetness to any savory dish — way better than raisins in my estimation. I’m also dying to try them on vanilla ice cream.
I’m so in love with these that I took them as my contribution to a food photography workshop. The next time I resist the temptation to “run to the store” who knows what treasures I might discover already exist right in my own kitchen.
If you want to know more about our food waste issue, Jonathan Bloom has an excellent blog called Wasted Food and is writing a book about the problem and some excellent solutions.
If you want information about the shelf life of any food, there’s StillTasty.com. Check before tossing anything out. Remember, waste not, want not.