Wild rice and parsnip fritters with mushrooms in cider and thyme, and leek-smoked cheese mash

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A couple of years ago, I went to San Francisco to check out the cutting edge of modern cooking in one of the most idyllic vegetable-producing areas of the world. We had a sublime meal of simple perfection at Chez Panisse, one other nice dinner and an awful lot of overpriced fusion codology. Easily the most inspiring people were the growers; the cooks were too busy growing ponytails. On the last day, while prowling in Macey’s department store for a present for my mother, I spotted the inspiration for these fritters in the ‘deli’ section. It took a while for me to change the dish from a Spanish-tortilla-style cold snack to these little fritters. We serve tiny little ones as a starter at dinner, and this bigger version for lunch. Wild rice has a nutty flavour and a chewy texture and, of course, that brilliant streaked black colour. I think of it as a winter food and, like buckwheat, inevitably pair it with mushrooms, dill, fennel, nuts and smoked flavours. I should point out that my mother got a silk scarf, not a bag of rice.

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Ingredients

  • 150 g cooked wild rice
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 120 g parsnip, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 50 mls milk
  • 50 mls yoghurt
  • 100 g flour
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped parsley, fresh dill or fennel
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 200 g mushrooms
  • 1 tblspn butter
  • 150 mls dry cider
  • 100 mls single cream

Method

YOU’LL GET 150 g OF WILD RICE from 50 g raw, which is a very small amount to try to cook, so I would cook at least twice that and use the leftovers for a salad or pilaff, or more of these lovely fritters tomorrow. The way I cook wild rice is to use a 2:1 ratio of cold water to rice, eg 400 mls water to 200 g rice. Bring them to the boil together in a heavy pan, then simmer, covered, for 50-60 minutes at a very low heat. Ideally all the water will be gone and the rice will be perfectly cooked. Alternatively, boil the rice at a rolling boil in lots of water, testing it occasionally, until it is done - safer, I suppose, but you will lose a lot of nutrition, flavour and colour. If you do cook only a tiny amount, this would, however, be the best way.

Cook the onion, garlic and fennel seeds in a little oil for a few minutes, then add the grated parsnip and continue cooking for a few minutes more, but don’t allow the parsnip to cook more than a little. Whisk the eggs, milk and yoghurt together, then whisk these into the flour with the nutmeg, dill and mustard, to get a thick batter. Now stir in the cooked vegetables and the wild rice. Season well with salt and pepper, and toss in some chopped parsley, fresh dill or fennel, if you feel inclined. Add the baking powder just before you start to fry the fritters.

In a wide frying pan, heat some oil to a low, steady temperature, then drop in tablespoons of the batter - as many as the pan will take, they won’t spread. You will need three for each person. Cook them for a few minutes, then flip each one over to cook the other side. You may need to flip them a couple of times, until they are lightly browned and firm to touch, then keep them warm in the oven while you cook another batch. It’s best to keep them frying gently without either browning them too quickly or letting the temperature drop to below a cooking level; they should take about eight minutes to cook through. Cook the mushrooms at the same time.

TAKE THE THYME LEAVES OFF THE STALKS. Slice the mushrooms according to how you like them and cook them briefly in butter over a high heat. Just as they begin to leak liquid, pour in the cider and the thyme, and continue cooking at a high temperature for a minute before adding the cream, then carry on until the liquids have reduced to a slightly thick pouring consistency. Take off the heat and season well with salt and black pepper.

Share out the mushrooms and their sauce between the plates and arrange three fritters on top of each. To make a winter feast of it, serve some smoked cheese mash and some simply cooked greenery - curly kale would be perfect.