Asparagus Risotto with Pistachios

Risotto is a beautiful thing. It’s full-bodied and creamy and can be made into a full meal without much preparation. Asparagus risotto is like broccoli cheese rice for adults.

I started by bringing a 32 ounce carton of vegetable broth (plus 1 cup of water) to a boil in a saucepan. In another pot I sautéed about a quarter of an onion in the teensiest amount of oil. Then I added two large cloves of minced garlic. After a couple minutes, I added about a cup of arborio rice, tossing it in the onion mixture just for a minute or two before adding a ladle-full of the hot stock.

Next I added a bunch of asparagus cut into one-inch pieces and some salt and pepper. Don’t forget to discard the bottom inch of the asparagus. To know exactly where to cut, take the asparagus and snap off the end. This will indicate how much to cut off all the asparagus spears since the bottom part is too fibrous to chew.

Now here’s the labor-intensive part of risotto. You have to monitor it while it cooks so that you can add ladles full of liquid to it slowly. Stir the risotto as you add the liquid so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. After the first batch of liquid is absorbed into the rice (on medium heat), add another scoop of broth. Continue this process until the broth is gone. (You can also use water to cook the risotto, but it won’t give it the full depth of flavor or the beautiful yellow color.) After about twenty minutes, the risotto should be almost completely cooked. Taste the rice to make sure it’s just slightly al dente. If you run out of liquid and the rice still isn’t finished cooking, add a little more water.

At this stage I added in some heavy whipping cream (about a quarter cup or so). I don’t know if this risotto sacrilege, but heavy cream makes everything taste better. I also added some shredded parmesan and a little bit of shredded gruyere (about a half cup of cheese total, but you can add more or less depending on your taste). Then I seasoned with salt and pepper.

I tossed in a cooked meatless chicken patty at the end to give my portion a little more protein (Patrick cooked regular chicken for himself) and topped my serving with pistachios for some crunch.


Saffron Risotto with Grilled Portabella

Last night I experimented in the kitchen a bit to put together a dinner a little more fancy than normal. Doesn’t every Tuesday need a little panache?

The dish I made was inspired by a local Italian restaurant: grilled portabella mushroom filled with mozzarella, cheddar and homemade caponata atop a bed of saffron risotto (I’ve apparently been on a risotto kick lately) and served with a balsamic reduction.

(Side note: Saffron, which comes from a type of crocus, is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. Did you know a pound of dry saffron requires 50,000–75,000 flowers? That’s a lot of flowers…)

There were a lot of firsts for me when I made this. I had never made a caponata, nor had I ever made a balsamic reduction. For the caponata, I pickled the eggplant, which was also a first. I was worried the caponata would be too vinegary (that’s a word right? vinegary?). It turned out to be quite tasty and fresh. I used three colors of bell pepper, parsley, celery and diced tomatoes. It might not be a traditional caponata, though, because I didn’t use any capers or olives. Are those defining elements for a caponata? The risotto was creamy and subtle, and the caponata-filled mushrooms were tender and tart. The balsamic reduction provided a sweet accent. It turned out to be a lovely dish, and kind of like me, it was a little high-maintenance but well worth the trouble.