spring green risotto

Posted on April 4, 2011. Filed under: Dinner, pasta | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

With yet another landslide victory in the polls, the winner of What’s Next? (#3) had the mass appeal of creamy, comforting goodness of risotto with the healthy veggies and a touch of no meat that helped it beat out the other competitors in the mix.  And being the ever fantastic friend she always is, Courtney was kind enough to join me as I cooked and even stayed to share in the delightful meal that followed.  (sidenote to all future guests: she brought salads from Cafe Green AND a bottle of wine so take note – the bar has been set!)

I’ve only made risotto once before and while I know that it is supposed to be an “easy” dish (albeit somewhat labor intensive), it still makes me nervous as it was very lacking the first time I made it.  Kind of a gloopy, sticky mess, if you will.  After reading a few of the reviews of how delicious and easy this dish was, I took note that several reviewers suggested prepping EVERYTHING beforehand so that it is all ready to be dumped in the pot as needed.  I followed that advice and will offer this recipe with that adjustment.  While Ina has you slicing and blanching asparagus, mixing cheese and lemon and other tasks while the rice cooks, I will advice you to do it all ahead of time.  It leads to a few more dishes but prevents you from running around trying to get stuff done while the rice overcooks or doesn’t get the stirring attention that it needs.  I personally suffer from having only 2 hands and when risotto needs to be stirred “almost constantly”, this is why I make that suggestion.

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 for appetizer or 2 for dinner with 3 lunch leftovers

1 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 cup chopped fennel
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
4 to 6 cups simmering chicken stock
1 pound thin asparagus
10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2 a juicy lemon)
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Start by chopping all the veggies and put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  As far as the leeks – I usually just slice the stalk like celery, carrots or green onions.  I don’t “chop” per se.  One important thing to remember is that leeks are really, really dirty and you should rinse them with cold water a few times to get rid of all of the sediment.  Fennel is a new one for me and I’ve never chopped it before.  You might ask why I didn’t Google it to see the recommended way to chop said veggie but my laptop was upstairs and I was feeling especially lazy after the soccer tournament so I just figured it out.  You can follow this great link to get instructions if you need them.  Next is asparagus since your salted water should now be ready to blanch.  Cut them in 1 1/2 inch diagonal pieces and discard the tough ends.  Diagonal because it looks prettier but it’s not that serious if you want to just chop them straight across.  Blanch the asparagus in the boiling salted water for about 4 minutes and then drain and cool in ice water.  This “shocks” the asparagus and stops the cooking so they don’t get too soft.

Next, zest the lemons until you have 1 tablespoon of zest and set aside.  If your lemons are extra juicy (as mine were), a half a lemon should give you the required 2 tbsp.  Add the lemon juice to the 1/3c of mascarpone, mix and set aside.  Courtney is available for hire for this step and does a damn good job.

Now that everything is ready (and your stock is of course simmering away on the stove with your ladle ready to go), you can add the butter and olive oil to a medium or large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and fennel and saute for 5-7 minutes until tender.  Then add the rice and stir for a minute until all of the grains of rice are coated in the oil, butter, veggie combo.  Add the white wine (taking care not to spill it down your leg, as I did) and simmer over low heat until it is almost all absorbed.  Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly (see??!) and waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding another 2 ladles.  Ina says this process should take 25-30 minutes.  It took more like 45 minutes for me but I may have had the stove on a little bit low.  I decided I’d rather go low and slow than turn up the heat and risk messing it up.  Any avid readers of the blog may have noticed that my oven consistently takes longer than it should to cook things because it’s crappy.  Such is life and hopefully I’ll somehow survive.  Assuming it takes the normal Ina amount of time, after about 15 minutes of cooking the rice, add the drained asparagus, peas, lemon zest, 2 tsp o f kosher salt and 1 tsp of pepper.

My thoughts on kosher salt.  I love it.  I’ve often seen complaints on Ina’s recipes that they are too salty.  My opinion is that these people are probably not using kosher salt.  Normal table salt is saltier than kosher…bite the bullet and get a container of it and use it for seasoning.  It’s by far the most used seasoning in my kitchen.  I love salt.

Ok back to the risotto that we are stillllll stirring.  Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender but still firm.  I was tasting mine every few minutes to see if it was tender enough.  Remember that you do not have to use ALL of the stock.  If you use 3 cups and that’s enough to get your risotto cooked to a level that you enjoy, then you are done.  I used more like 6 cups in my slow cooking process but it came out still firm and tasting great.  The risotto should not be thick or sticky and according to Tom Colicchio on Top Chef, it should not hold its shape when you put it on a plate.  When the risotto is done cooking, remove it from the heat and add the mascarpone/lemon mixture, the Parmesan and the chives and stir in the creamy goodness.

Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.  Folks I’m not gonna lie to you.  This is some good, good food.  We ate until we fell deep into a risottocoma and enjoyed every minute of it.  It’s a big bowl of comforting, creamy, cheesy delicious.  So thanks to you all for your spectacular choice!


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