If you follow me on Twitter then you will know that I have just returned home from the Slow Food national congress and annual general meeting in Canberra. The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in response to plans to open a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since it’s beginnings, Slow Food has expanded and now boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries, organized in groups called “convivia”. These groups are not just a bunch of people getting together for a nice long lunch, as some seem to think, but are people whose aim is to advocate for “good, clean and fair” food. In promoting this the movement cooperates with the development of seed banks, preserving local culinary traditions, preserving and promoting local food products, educating the public about the risks of monoculture, fast food, industrialized food production and agriculture and lobbies for and supports organic food production.
There were various speakers gathered for the congress, including Stephanie Alexander who spoke about her wonderful Kitchen Garden project, but the one I found to be most inspiring was the Slow Food International Secretary General, Paolo Di Croce, who had come to Australia specifically for the meeting.
Paolo spoke passionately about the current system of producing and distributing food and the ways in which he sees it is broken. He particularly addressed the misleading notion that it is more expensive to eat good clean and fair food, pointing out the hidden costs in the prevailing systems of food production – costs that include packaging, landfill issues, soil degradation and the growth of “super weeds” from chemical use, loss of plant diversity, health issues arising from poor food choices and the cost of wastage. While large agricultural companies urge us to embrace genetic modification as the only way to continue feeding the world’s population, they conveniently distract us from the problems around the inequitable distribution of available food resources and the enormous and obscene wastage of food that occurs in western societies. According to Di Croce, 22 kg of food is wasted per second in Italy and in the United Kingdom it is 5 times that!! Further, in 36 out of 40 of the poorest countries in Africa children suffer and die from inadequate diets and malnutrition while their governments export food. In fact, far from there being a shortage of food, he asserts that there is enough food produced today to feed the entire world twice over. The Slow Food movement aims to help fix this broken food system and is currently focusing attention on South America and Africa, with the goal of creating 1,000 school gardens in Africa.
With Paolo’s words on food wastage ringing in my ears, I peered into the depths of the fridge seeking inspiration for dinner last night and spied half a pumpkin languishing in the back corner. While almost past it’s peak, it still had some life in it and was the perfect thing to add to the last of the leeks and the sliver of parmesan on the rind to create a slow meal of our own – pumpkin risotto! Risotto is and endlessly variable dish and is a perfect way to use up odds and ends of vegetables, scraps of bacon, cold chicken etc. to produce a healthy, warming meal on a cold night. There is no need to be too fussy about this – if you don’t have leeks use onions, no pumpkin – use peas! It is important to keep the stock very hot so keep it on a very low flame in between additions. If you are short on parmesan and you still have the rind, it can be stirred into the rice towards the end of the cooking to impart it’s flavour – just don’t forget to take it out before serving!
If I have any, I will often serve this on a bed of baby spinach leaves – the heat from the rice wilts the leaves and you get and extra veggie thrown in!
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 25 mls olive oil
- 2 leeks, sliced (or 1 onion, chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups pumpkin, diced (or frozen peas, chopped broccoli, carrots, whatever!)
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 litre hot stock – no stock cubes please, it is now possible to buy ready made stock if you don’t have the time to make your own.
- 1/2 cup of grated parmesan
- 5-6 sage leaves, chopped finely
- Black pepper. freshly ground
- Heat butter and oil together in large saucepan (preferably non-stick so that you don’t have to stir quite so often), add the leeks (or onions) and cook gently until transparent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
- Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil for about 1 minute, then stir in the pumpkin (if using softer vegetables, add them later in the cooking or they will turn to mush).
- Reduce heat to moderate-low and add one cup of the very hot stock, stirring occasionally until all the liquid is absorbed. Keeping liquid at a gentle simmer, continue adding a ladle-full at a time, stirring in between until stock is absorbed – will take 20-25 minutes. If you run out of stock, but the rice needs a little more cooking time then add some boiling water.
- Once the rice is tender and creamy, add the salt pepper, cheese and sage and put the lid on. Stand for 2-3 minutes before serving.