Chef Privé Cooks on RSG

Yes, it is Thursday again and that means I get get to feature another fabulous South African good blogger on RSG just after 9. If you want to see previously featured bloggers, you can read all about them in my end of year write-up!
Today however the focus is on the lovely Jacs van Zyl from the blog Chef Privé. Jacs is a cordon bleu-trained chef, although she much prefers the title of cook. This is her early childhood memories:
“My gastronomical experiences began very early on:  standing beside my grandmother, watching as she made fresh pastries, cakes and other delectable morsels.  Playing outside with my big brother, and the somewhat superfluous appetite that had us picking greedily on fresh snap peas, crisp green beans, wild strawberries, sweetly scented naartjies(tangerines) and sun-blushed plums, all of which grew in abundance in our garden in sleepy Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  I can recall dusky evenings, sitting in our housekeeper Nelly’s khaya (an outdoor room) eating sadza (cooked ground maize meal) and chomolier (a sautéed green leafy African vegetable) with our hands and smelling of smoky wood fires when we eventually emerged, giggling hysterically from sheer gratification.  It is these innate pleasures that come to mind when I think about how it all began, and where they have brought me today.”

Currently Jacs works in Product Development, creating prepared meals for a leading South African retailer.

Lemon, Thyme & Parmesan Risotto stuffed baby peppers

Ingredients:  (Serves 4 as a starter)
4-6 baby peppers – use red, orange and yellow peppers only, for their sweet flavour
1 tsp olive oil
500ml vegetable stock
75g butter, cubed
1-2 medium onions or 4 shallots if you can find them, peeled & finely chopped
1/2 cup Arborio rice (risotto rice)
30ml white wine – I used a 2011 Neethlingshof unwooded Chardonnay, but any good quality dry white wine will do
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (if you can find lemon thyme, even better)
salt and ground black pepper to taste
50g (1/2 a cup) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Extra thyme to garnish

Method
Preheat your oven to 200`C. 

To prepare the peppers, place them on a roasting tray and drizzle over the teaspoon of olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until the body of the peppers starts to soften.  Remove from the oven and carefully slice the tops off the peppers 2 cm from the stem so that they turn into little lids.  Scoop out the seeds and white membranes carefully.  Set the peppers aside and leave the oven set to 200`C.
Put the vegetable stock in a small saucepan on the stove and bring it to the boil.  Turn down the heat and keep it at a gentle simmer whilst you make your risotto.
For the risotto, melt 20g of the butter in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat.  Add the chopped onions or shallots and sauté very gently over a low-medium heat until they are transparent and soft.  Pour in the risotto and, using a wooden spoon, stir together well to coat the grains of rice with the softened onions.  The wooden spoon is very important, as it aids the gentle release of starch in the rice.  Once sufficiently combined, pour in the wine, stirring constantly.  Cook together gently for 2-3 minutes until the wine all but cooks away.
Stir in the lemon zest and juice and add the sprigs of (lemon) thyme.  Pour the simmering vegetable stock into the risotto.  Stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan as the rice soaks the stock up.  Contrary to what many people believe, stirring the risotto constantly is not necessary.  You’ll need to stir more regularly towards the end of the cooking process, as the stock will be absorbed by the rice and will stick to the bottom of the pan more.
Taste your risotto regularly to check the texture of it; you’re looking for al denté, which means ‘with a bite’.  You’ll know it’s cooked by the creamy, slightly nutty texture.  Adjust the seasoning and stir in the remaining butter and 35g of grated Parmesan cheese.  Remember to remove any hard stalky bits of thyme that may remain.
Spoon the risotto into the softened baby peppers carefully, pop the lids back on and lay them in an ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the peppers and bake in the preheated oven for 5-8 minutes or until the cheese turns golden brown and crispy.
Garnish with a few extra thyme leaves and serve immediately with a chilled glass of whatever good white wine you prepared the risotto with.

Catch the Chef Privé feature on RSG Thursday 12 January just after 9am. 100-104FM or listen online at http://www.rsg.co.za

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