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I learned the hard way that there is something one must never do when visiting in cultures more generous than our own – and that is compliment them on something they own. If you carelessly show admiration for one of their possessions, they will then feel obliged to give it to you! Or at least that’s what happened to me. It was only after some strenuous effort at back-peddling that I managed to convince my Vietnamese friend that I did not, in fact, want to take home her painting. Despite my sharing a vocal appreciation of it, I did not in fact wish to own it!

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Thankfully, my sister-in-law, though also incredibly generous, did not feel the need to part with her chunky, hardcover cookbook once I began poring over it, drooling over the pictures, and exclaiming that this was a wonderful book, chock-full of recipes I “must make immediately!” Rather, she in her wisdom tracked down that very book (though it was out of print) and promptly bought it for my birthday! So now, I am the very proud and satisfied owner of a Bill Granger classic, “Best of Bill” from which I plan to make everything.

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Most of the recipes are exactly the type of things I like to make, and bear striking resemblance to some of the recipes already on this blog! For instance, Bill has his Oat, Pear and Raspberry Loaf and I have Pear and Raspberry Coconut Bread. He makes Spaghetti with Spicy Meatballs and I make Great Spaghetti and Meatballs. He has his Crunchy-topped Pear Muffins and I have my Pear, Chocolate and Ginger Muffins with crunchy nut topping. You get the picture… his recipes are very accessible.

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They are not overly presumptuous; they don’t use ingredients that are expensive or hard to source. And likewise, the methods used are what most people would be able to …. like a baked risotto. Like many, I suspect, risotto made the traditional way has eluded me. Okay, I only tried it once, but once was enough! I didn’t relish spending time over the hot stove again only to have a potful of gluggy rice. So an oven-baked risotto is right up my alley! Using my favourite spring vegetable, asparagus, this risotto is a lovely, one-pot meal for spring.

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Bill’s Oven-baked Chicken and Asparagus Risotto
A comforting dish for cooler weather, this risotto makes the most of fresh, seasonal asparagus.

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g (1 lb 2 oz) boneless chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
1 onion, finely chopped (I left this out)
1 garlic clove, crushed (I use 2 or 3)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
250g (9 oz/1 ¼ cups) Arborio rice
750mL (26 fl oz/3 cups) chicken stock
175g (6 oz/1 bunch) asparagus, rinsed, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
35g (1 ¼ oz/1/3 cup) grated parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, flameproof casserole dish over a high heat. (If you don’t own a flameproof casserole dish, fry in a heavy based pot and transfer to casserole dish later). Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil and the onion (if using) to the casserole and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil. Add the stock and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. (If using a separate pot to fry, transfer to casserole dish now).

Cover the casserole and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Add the asparagus first and then return the chicken to the casserole, cover and bake for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the asparagus is bright green and just tender (mine took longer). Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper, before serving with extra parmesan cheese.

Notes
Adapted (barely) from Best of Bill

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