Nici Wickes' Creamy Prawn & Lemon Risotto For One

You can also use bacon or sausage in this simple, extra-creamy recipe

Photo / Terry Eyre

People can end up living solo for any number of reasons — widowed, separated, kids have left home . . .

In my case, I've never been partnered for long nor had children, so I'm damn near an expert at living alone! I’m in my mid-fifties now and I realise that I’ve set up routines and rituals, projects and plans, to make it pleasurable, not miserable. I can’t tell you how often people have commented to me that they can’t be bothered cooking for themselves, that cooking for one is boring. Whaaaat?

Cooking for myself can be the most gratifying part of my day. I’m here to help make it so for you too. You see, I get it. It used to bother me, too, living alone. Couldn’t stand it. But eventually, along came Netflix, a stray kitten I named Joshua Violet (there was some initial confusion re gender identity) and a more settled version of myself and, hey presto, I now love living solo. If anything, I’m bemused that society only celebrates one form of relationship — the one between a person and their significant other, in marriage or similar, though thankfully that is changing.

The most important relationships for me are those with my family and friends. They’re honest, caring and enduring and, for me at least, less complex than any I’ve had that are backgrounded by romantic intimacy. Living solo doesn’t have to mean feeling lonely. I can attest that living alone, for me, is utterly fine most of the time.

The decade when aloneness plagued me most was in my thirties. It seemed everyone around me was pairing up, arranging weddings and committing in a way that I could honestly say seemed foreign, even reckless, to me. Or they were planning on or having children. With hindsight I can see now that any discontent I felt at that time wasn’t because I wanted those things for myself, but because I felt so marginalised that my way of being/living was so uncommon, invisible, unvalidated.

If I could tell my twenty- or thirty-year-old self anything, it would be to refocus, not on what society or others are expecting (Are you married? Do you have kids? Have you tried internet dating? . . . so tiresome) but on what my inner self needed. At that time what I needed was financial security, the challenge of a job that I enjoyed, the hope of buying a house that I could call mine and some tools to help me work out who I was and what I needed to be happy enough.

My hopes for the future didn’t, and had never, included children. I realised this when close friends began expressing their desire to have children and I felt like there must be something wrong with me because I had never even considered it. Not even for a moment. I love children, but that doesn’t mean I have ever felt the maternal pull. Perhaps I never wanted to care for something so endlessly and relentlessly? There are loads of ways to live a life, and surely the way I was living mine was okay?

I try to lead a loving life albeit the love of my life isn’t a single person, it’s lots of people. And it’s cooking. Cooking is my true north, just as sailing or surfing, fishing, a partner, kids, reading, photography, yoga or cycling may be for another person. My love for food — cooking it, eating it, sharing it, reading about it, travelling for it — provides me with a direct and deep connection to the world. I never feel lonely when I'm cooking. Alongside me are the farmers and growers, those hardy folk who toil through the seasons to produce whatever it is I'm lucky enough to be peeling, chopping or gently frying.

Still, living alone can pose problems for some in the kitchen. There aren't a ton of recipes for one and, if you do find them, they’re often a bit lacking, earnest and austere, if you ask me. I cook a proper dinner almost every night for myself. No cheese and crackers or ready-made packaged meal for me. Cooking for myself is like a meditation of sorts. That being said, I don’t cook fussy food or meals that take forever to prepare. It’s got to be easy with great results — a sure bet.

Almost anything, save perhaps some cake-baking, can be easily scaled back to serve one. There are some dishes that lend themselves to cooking single serves — risotto, pasta, pizza — but equally a roast dinner can be made with a whole chicken leg, a lamb shank or some juicy chops. A batch of fritters is just perfect for one, and puddings for one are my favourite — crumbles, fruit sponges, mousses, biscuits sandwiched with ice cream . . . I may be single, but that doesn’t have to mean missing out on the nurturing quality of homecooked food or the celebration of a simple yet fabulous feast.

PRAWN AND LEMON RISOTTO RECIPE
Makes enough for one greedy person

It isn’t critical to stir the risotto continuously, but it is important to ensure that it doesn’t dry out, so keep an eye on it.

25g butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small-medium onion, finely diced
100g (about 2 handfuls) risotto rice
½ cup white wine
1-2 cups vegetable stock
¼ cup peas
3-6 frozen Aussie raw prawns, thawed and shelled
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Sprinkle of grated Parmesan, to serve
Drizzle of top-quality olive oil

1. In a medium-sized, heavy-based pot or pan, melt the butter, add the olive oil and gently saute the onion. Once the onion is soft and translucent, add the rice. Stir to coat in the oil and butter. Gently fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Don’t let the onion brown.

2. Pour in the wine and allow to bubble until almost evaporated. Add the stock, half a cup at a time, until all the stock is used and/or the rice is just cooked through. It is important that the rice grains absorb most of the liquid before the next addition because this adds to the creaminess of the dish.

3. Add the peas and prawns and cook for 1-2 minutes or until prawns are pink and peas are cooked. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Toss in the lemon zest at this stage too.

4. Feel free to use this wee trick I learnt in Italy: once cooked, just before serving, shake the pot, front and back, so the risotto slaps against the sides. This helps to release the starches and makes the risotto extra-creamy.

5. To serve, squeeze over lemon juice and sprinkle on the grated Parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil.

Note: Use bacon or sausage squeezed from its casing in place of prawns.

A Quiet Kitchen, by Nici Wickes, photography by Todd Eyre, published by Bateman Books, $45, on sale July 11.

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