When just out of college, and income was in short supply, I loved to eat out. Ironically, as time passed, with a growing family and a burgeoning income, I chose to eat more at home. I had discovered a desire to cook and I began to teach myself the rudiments of cookery. I have continued with this unsystematic education for thirty years – although you’ll have to drop by and eat here to find out how successful it’s been.

Art history featured as a large chunk of my early life, so I am still happy in a gallery – almost any gallery in almost any country. Staring at a wall full of canvases or a floor full of sculpture, I can forego my own world and start to inhabit someone else’s. At least I can join them halfway. Self-absorption has to take a back seat or you’re wasting your time at an exhibition. Same thing with music, if you’re allowing any of life’s little distractions to drift to the fore, Mahler, Miles Davis or Mozart will forever elude you. The same sensation occurs when I cook. If you don’t give cooking the purpose and care it needs, meeting the recipe halfway, it may well pop up to bite you rather than the other way round – no matter what a well-rehearsed 15 minute Jamie might claim.

The other hard-earned lesson in a family was that what you cooked did not need to impress – it just needed to please. So after a while, I needed to forego extravagantly decorated cookbooks (you know the one’s I mean) and look for recipes with an ease of assembly and a tried and tested lineage. In culinary terms, tradition is only an experiment that has been successful. And finally, having owned a pub and restaurant for some 6 years, I learnt all too well the daunting chasm that separates professional catering from home cooking.

So recipes that effectively began life as peasant cookery, a definition that has unfortunately become a supercilious and pejorative term, are regularly cooked at home. The cooking of the peasant classes, those home cooks revered as Contardini in Italy and Paysan in France, fortuitously serves to generate an easy confidence in the kitchen. So it is when a risotto is the task at hand. The simplest of risottos here and a paradigm for all others, is one with peasant roots established by the Moors in southern Spain; providing paella, to the glaciated valleys of northern Italy, where risotto found its early home.

Parmesan Risotto from European Peasant Cookery (1986) Elisabeth Luard

Serves 4
500g risotto rice
1 medium onion
2 tbsp olive oil
Chicken, veal or vegetable stock (or well-flavoured zamponi broth) good stock is the key to this dish
A strip of parmesan or pecorino rind
To finish
Freshly ground pepper
Butter and freshly ground parmesan

Skin and chop the onions finely
Put the oil to heat in a suitable pan
Add the onions and fry gently until they turn golden
Sprinkle in the rice and fry gently turning with a wooden spoon until it becomes transparent
Pour in enough of the well-flavoured, boiling stock to cover the grains
Add the cheese rind, bubble up, turn down the heat and cook gently until all the liquid has been absorbed
Add another ladleful of stock and repeat the exercise
Continue until the rice is nearly soft but still retains a soft heart
Take it off the heat, remove the cheese rind and leave the rice to rest for 10 minutes
The Italians like their rice well moistened and soupy, with the grains separate but slightly nutty in the centre
Meanwhile put a serving dish to warm
Turn the risotto out onto the hot dish
Scatter with small pieces of butter, freshly milled black pepper and a generous grating of parmesan

Wine thoughts

There are as many wine choices for risotto as there are variants of risotto itself. With this dish I like a slightly chilled Dolcetto from the Piedmont region. A surprisingly seductive and habit-forming red wine, with a fresh, grapey fruitiness, similar in style to Beaujolais, and often compared favourably to that easy glugging French stalwart. If faced with a choice, and you might be lucky, pick Dolcetto d’Alba or Dolcetto Dogliani.