Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Asparagus and Spring Pea Risotto

Snow, snow go away. I want to eat fresh produce today. This is the time of year, the final stretch of Chicago winter. I just want to see something alive on the trees and go out in a light jacket and ballet flats. Alas, it snowed 8 inches here today. Sigh...

If I can't actually enjoy spring yet, I'll have to fake it in the kitchen. From the minute I saw the beautiful asparagus in the produce section, my mind started racing to spring dresses and flowering trees. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I dug up Ina's Risotto recipe and make just a tweak or two to make it my own. The bright, clean flavors and colorful appeal only make me more excited for what's to come (extended hours of photography daylight anyone?).

Look at all of these amazing green things. I love soups and stews, but by the end of winter all I seem to crave are fresh, just barely cooked vegetables. Doesn't this just look like spring?

Risotto has a reputation for being a lot of work. It's truly not that difficult, but it just requires a good mise en place (don't forget to rinse your leeks well) and constant attention. Not hard, just focused.

As you can see (kinda), I have my chicken stock simmering on the back burner. You'll slowly add this to the rice mixture, letting each ladle absorb and stirring to avoid burning the rice.

Look how those little grains plump up with wine and chicken stock flavor. I add the asparagus, chives and peas at the very end, ensuring they keep their bite and refreshing green color.

The ricotta adds just the extra bit of cream needed complement the starchy rice.

We'll be buried in the snow for a few more weeks, but a girl can dream.

Asparagus and Spring Pea Risotto
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, chopped and thoroughly rinsed
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lb thin asparagus, sliced in 1-2 inch pieces
10oz frozen peas, thawed
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons chives, minced

In a saucepan, bring chicken stock to a simmer. In a medium sized pot, boil water and add asparagus, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Remove asparagus to a bowl of ice water and set aside.

In a separate heavy-bottom pot, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and fennel to olive oil and butter, cooking until tender; about 5-6 minutes.  Add rice and stir until coated with oil and slightly toasted. Add white wine and reduce to a simmer, cooking just until fragrant. Begin adding chicken stock one ladle at a time, stirring rice until it absorbs stock. As stock is absorbed, add more one ladle at a time, stirring constantly; this should take about 30 minutes. When the rice is cooked to al dente, add asparagus, peas, lemon zest and juice, S&P and 2 tablespoons minced chives.

Just before serving stir in ricotta cheese until melted. Serve risotto warm and top with remaining minced chives.

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