Spring Risotto

There are few dishes that are both totally versatile, providing the blank canvas that I love and that are also an easy-to-assemble first class comfort food. Every spring I like to make a risotto using the fresh vegetables and greens that are readily available in my garden or at the market. I also like to serve risottos for entertaining- making a luscious and satisfying one dish main course with infinite variations to suit the season or the company. In fact the recipe below can, in a pinch, be assembled from the pantry or frozen ingredients. Here is the basic recipe and some suggestions for substitutions or variations.

                                    Spring risotto

1/2  lb. cooked fava beans, or asparagus spears cut in 1/2 inchpieces

1 cup fresh shelled green peas or 1 cup frozen small peas, thawed

6 cups chicken stock, homemade or boxed organic low sodium, heated to a simmer

1/2 pound artichoke heart quarters (You can make fresh or buy in the frozen food section)

2 TBS. olive oil 

2 TBS unsalted butter

1/2 cup  minced yellow onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups imported Italian arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Prep your selected vegetables first: If starting with fresh, shell peas and/or fava beans and trim asparagus spears into 1/2 in pieces, discarding tough bottoms. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch each vegetable, starting with the fava beans, separately until desired tenderness is reached- within minutes for the asparagus, depending on thickness and likewise with the peas. Do not overcook because you will be adding to the hot risotto later.  I generally use the same water for all the vegetables and remove them with skimmer or slotted spoon. Drop into ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain and set aside. This can be done as much as a day in advance.

 Before beginning to cook the rice, line up all your ingredients on a tray or in small bowls next    to the stove. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until onion turn translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice, and stir until it is well coated - about 1 minute. Add the wine, and stir until it is almost all reduced. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot stock.  Cook, stirring, until the stock has been almost completely absorbed. Continue cooking and stirring the rice in this manner, adding 1/2 cup stock at a time, for about 20-25 minutes. At this point, the rice should be tender but still a bit firm to the bite. 

Stir the your chosen vegetables or other additions into the rice, heat through and season lightly with salt. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and half the cheese. Mix quickly for 1 to 2 minutes until the butter and the cheese have melted and the rice has a moist, creamy consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately in warm bowls with additional cheese sprinkled on top, if desired.

Serves 6-8


Variations:

Add 1/2 cup of proscuitto or sauteed pancetta cut into small cubes. Add salt and pepper to taste only after all ingredients are cooked.

Shrimp risotto: Add 1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp to the basic recipe along with the juice of one lemon.  Add a dash of hot sauce or even a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese.

Scallop risotto: Add 1 lb. of fresh scallops cut into bite-sized pieces or use bay scallops if available. Parmesan is usually not added to traditional Italian seafood dishes, but you can decide if you want to add some.

Risotto Verde (Green risotto): You may omit the added vegetables. Instead, place 1 cup of fresh basil leaves and 1 1/2 cups of fresh spinach leaves in your Cuisinart and pulse until finely chopped. Stir in just before serving and pass plenty of parmesan to guests.