Packed lunches. The phrase doesn’t evoke as much of a grimace as it did when I was in my school days, complete with the memory of backpacks, the terror of the “no hat no play” rule, scraped knees, and hitched-up tartan skirts that were guiltily rolled down on the shuffle back home.
I had some interesting tastes during my time at school, the highlight of which was when I developed a fixation on Vegemite sandwiches with sliced cheese and bacon balls. It had to have white bread, of course. I think back then all the supermarkets had was your usual Wonder White, wholemeal and multigrain for the more health-conscious/fibre-needy types; there definitely wasn’t any of this low-carb, quinoa and flaxseed, or gluten-free varieties. But after a little while, mum unsurprisingly grew tired of carefully slicing a handful of cheese and bacon balls in half every morning (how else would they stay in between the bread??) and got me onto ham and cheese sandwiches which were much easier to slap together.
Oh, those ham and cheese sandwiches. White bread, one layer of Kraft Singles shiny cheese and about four layers of supermarket ham, because mum believed that I needed the extra (four times the extra) meat protein to keep me full for the rest of the school afternoon. When you have these every day – or when you have the same thing every day for months, really – the lure of the canteen with its pies and snacks calls to the loose pocket money clinking enticingly in that special coin pocket sewn onto your uniform.
It was only when I reached high school and got a basic grasp on cooking skills that I declared my wish to make my own lunches. Mum was a bit offended to be honest, but after a lifetime of white bread sandwiches, it was time to make a change. I started out with basic chicken wraps that could be assembled on my lap with the classic iceberg lettuce. I remember back then when you said “lettuce” you didn’t need to specify what type it was – there was only ever iceberg until all its curly cousins come along (what kale?).
Come university and my first office job and I discovered the delights of access to a microwave for lunch. And a sandwich press! And a kettle! My Sister’s current workplace actually has a full kitchen with an oven, which I think is taking it a bit far – apparently they make scones and cakes for morning teas from scratch.
Anyway, these appliances are a God-send when it comes to the cooler months and you’re on a budget, because it enables you to bring a variety of casseroles, stews, homemade soups, noodles and pasta leftovers into the office. I’ve recently been making a lot of brown rice boxes with chicken and broccoli, but have also taken a little longer over my recent lazy weekends to make a flavoursome, warming risotto. As I had received a sample of the new gluten-free Beak & Son’s gourmet sausages thanks to Missy Mischief PR last week, over the weekend I decided to use some of them in a tomato-based risotto.
The new Beak & Son’s gourmet sausages come in Chicken & Mushroom, Tuscan Pork, and Traditional Beef. I broke out the Tuscan Pork, with fennel, parsley and Parmesan cheese, slit the sausage cases and rolled out the sausage mince into ping-pong sized balls.
To serve four, you will need:
- 2 tablespoons of oil, for pan-frying;
- 600ml chicken stock;
- 100ml passata;
- 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste;
- 1 small brown onion, diced;
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed;
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika;
- 150g arborio rice;
- 50ml dry white wine;
- 1 bay leaf;
- Three Beak & Sons Tuscan Pork sausages, casings removed, mince rolled into balls;
- 1/4 cup Parmesan, shaved, plus extra for serving;
- Freshly ground black pepper.
In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock, passata, and tomato paste until it boils. Stir until combined then reduce the heat as low as it would go to keep warm.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of the oil. Add the rolled sausage balls (tee hee) and toss in the oil, frying until they are lightly brown. Take them out of the frying pan onto a plate or bowl and set them to one side.
In the frying pan, add the onion and fry, stirring, until softened and translucent before adding the garlic. When the garlic is fragrant, add the rice and paprika and stir well to coat the rice evenly in the oil.
Add the 50ml of white wine and allow to simmer, stirring the rice until it has mostly absorbed.
Add your bay leaf.
Add a ladle of the chicken-passata liquid and stir the rice until it has mostly been absorbed, and keep doing this, stirring continuously after each ladle-full until it has been absorbed.
When only a ladle of chicken-passata liquid remains, return the pork balls to the pan into the risotto mixture.
Add the last ladle of liquid, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and stir in. Grate more Parmesan and crack over the black pepper before serving, if desired.