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Summer Veg: Stuffed Vine Leaves

Everyone seems to have a pet vine in their garden or on their balcony these days, but, if you haven’t, it’s almost worth nipping down to the garden centre to get one especially for making these. You might even end up with a grape crop too.

If you use the brine-preserved vine leaves sold in delis, they won’t have quite the same aromatic freshness, but you will produce better dolmades than anything ready-made – and once you’ve stuffed and wrapped the first few few you’ll find you become very deft. Risotto rice is a bit unconventional: if that bothers you, use long-grain (adjusting the timing according to the packet instructions). As well as having these as part of a Greek meze, try them with lamb chops some time.

Serves 6, as part of a meze

24 vine leaves

olive oil (about 4 tbsp)

60g onion, finely chopped

110g risotto rice, such as vialone nano

500-600ml hot chicken or vegetable stock, or water

zest of ½ small lemon

2 tbsp of one or two of the following, chopped: mint, dill, fennel fronds, chervil, flat-leaf parsley, oregano

40g pine nuts (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

If using preserved vine leaves, follow the rinsing and blanching instructions on the packet. If using fresh leaves, nip out the stalks, wash them, then plunge them in boiling water. The length of time depends on the variety as well as the season, but, as a guide: in mid-June, I give them a minute; in high-summer, up to five minutes. After blanching, refresh them immediately in cold water. Drain well, then lay them out to dry on paper towel or a clean cloth.

Meanwhile, heat two tbsp of the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the onion and soften on a medium-low heat for about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with oil. Add 300 ml of the stock, bring to the boil and simmer. Check after 15 minutes: the grains should be cooked, but al dente. Drain.

Leave to cool for 10-15 minutes, then stir in the the pine nuts if using, the lemon zest, herbs, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of oil.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Oil a shallow ovenproof dish in which the vine-leaf parcels will fit tightly in a single layer. To stuff the leaves: lay flat, underside facing up. Put a neat spoonful of the rice mixture at the stem end of the leaf and begin to roll up the leaf. Fold in the sides and finally the top to make a neat tight parcel. Pack them, ends underneath, in the dish.

Pour a little oil over them and then pour in enough stock or water to come half-to-two-thirds of the way up their sides (they mustn’t be completely submerged). Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and, if you like, a bowl of yoghurt.

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