Several years ago, I discovered risottos. I hadn’t really ever had them or made them before until I had a delicious spinach and crab risotto while down the shore (I’ll share the recipe some day). I was hooked after the first bite. It was creamy and warm and comforting, with the rice having a slight bite still. The flavors meld together beautifully, and it was the perfect vehicle for fresh spinach and sweet crab. I had heard it was difficult to make, but after having that first dish, I started to research just how difficult. What I found was it’s really easy, just takes some time because you want to slowly incorporate the liquid into the rice to keep a creamy consistency. And, even better, after making risotto several times and experimenting with flavors, I have found you can put almost anything in it, and it still turns out great. This time of year, it’s perfect with spring vegetables!
For my spring risotto, I use asparagus, peas, and lemon zest, however, you can use the basic risotto recipe and add really any flavor you like. To make a basic risotto, start by heating 8 cups chicken stock until it begins to simmer. You’re going to use this to add to the risotto, and it will cook much quicker if you’re adding warm stock instead of cold. Keep the stock warming on the stove while you prepare the rest.
Take 1 1/2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups), and saute in 3 tablespoons olive oil. When I made the risotto this time, I had some duck fat left over from a recipe, so I used 3 tablespoons of that, which smelled and tasted amazing, however, olive oil certainly works. And this recipe makes a good bit of risotto, so you want a fairly large saute pan, or, just use a stock pot. I started with a saute pan this time but realized I was running out of room and switched to the stock pot! 🙂
You want to cook the onions over medium heat until they soften and brown. This will take several minutes. Once they are nice and soft, add 3 garlic cloves, minced. Cook that for just a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Then, add 2 cups arborio rice.
Let me just take a detour for a moment to discuss arborio rice. If you aren’t familiar, arborio is an Italian rice that has more starch, and, because you’re making risotto, it’s perfect to get that creamy consistency. As the rice cooks, the liquid absorbs some of the starch and becomes very creamy. I suggest using arborio if you can. I have made risotto for some health conscious friends using brown rice, and it really wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t get the true creamy consistency that arborio will. However, if you prefer brown rice, go for it.
Ok, back to the recipe. Add the rice and stir to be sure every grain of rice gets coated with the oil. Toast the rice for a few minutes. Next, add 1 cup white wine. The rice will quickly absorb the wine, and you’re ready for the slow process of incorporating the stock. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, and stir. You don’t want to start adding the next cup until the first cup is mostly absorbed. And, you’ll want to stir often to make sure the risotto doesn’t burn or stick to the pan, but also to make sure the stock is evenly absorbed.
Continue adding stock and cooking until all of the stock is absorbed. It will probably take about 45 minutes. Taste the risotto. At this point it should be tender and creamy, but not mushy. Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese. At this point you have a delicious risotto, however, we’re making spring risotto…
Chop 1 bunch asparagus into 1 inch pieces. Blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until tender. I add them back to the pot and fill it with cold tap water to stop the cooking, then drain. You can do this step up to a day before and just keep the cooked asparagus in the refrigerator. Add the cooked asparagus to the risotto along with 8 oz frozen peas (I know, I know, it’s spring risotto, and I’m telling you to use froze peas, but I never really use fresh…frozen are just as good and I add them right from the freezer), and the zest of 1 lemon. Allow everything to warm through, and you have a delicious side dish, or even meal in itself, perfect for these spring evenings!