Monday, 10 March 2014

Spring Risotto

I always wait for spring very impatiently. The harsh cold is really not my thing, and lately, I have been eying my winter coat and snow boots with such pure hatred that I wonder why they haven’t spontaneously combusted… I want to wear my cute shoes, my dresses and my thinner jackets, dammit! OK, rant over.

This craving for spring always ends up influencing my food choices. I start ordering salads at restaurants, just to see green stuff. I drink buckets of that green fruit smoothie that kinda looks like swamp water (or so my tattoo artist says). And of course, spring vegetables are suddenly my favorite veggies ever!

Truth be told, asparagus and artichokes have always been some of my favorite vegetables, in any season. They both have a subtle yet very flavorful taste, and they can be prepared so many ways, from the very simple to the very fancy. I had seen a soup recipe combining both in “Betty Goes Vegan” (not a book that I’d recommend, to be honest, unless you are a carnivore trying to switch to vegetarian, as there is barely a recipe in there that doesn’t include “vegan” cheese and meat substitute… I don’t get the point of a vegan cookbook that tries to include “meat“ and “cheese”, but maybe that’s just me…), but I was in the mood for something more filling than soup. So I kept the basic ingredient combination, but applied them to one of my favorite things ever: risotto!

Lemon highlights the flavor of both asparagus and artichokes without overwhelming them, and it has its own sunny taste that will brighten up an entire dish if properly dosed, so I just had to add it. As for goat’s cheese, well... when is goat’s cheese ever superfluous? It’s delicate creamy tang is perfect with those vegetables, and makes the risotto extra creamy and decadent!

Pick a bunch of thin asparagus, to make sure they will cook completely in the broth and rice; the thicker ones will be a bit too crunchy unless you par-boil them before adding them to the risotto. I used canned artichoke hearts, but if you have the fresh stuff handy, by all means, use it! And obviously, pick some creamy goat’s cheese with no crust. I’d use a plain one, and not those that already have fine herbs mixed in: you want to control your seasoning as much as possible!

4 cups vegetable broth
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup soft goat’s cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmagianno Reggiano
2 tablespoons butter

Bring the vegetable broth to a soft boil and keep on simmer. In a large pan, preheat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until the onions have softened and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the rosemary, tarragon and lemon zest, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the arborio rice to the pan along with the wine and the last 2 tablespoons of oil. Cook, stirring until every grain of rice is covered in oil and the wine has been completely absorbed.

Add the asparagus to the pan and mix well.

Add the broth to the pan, one ladleful at the time, and cook, stirring constantly, until the stock is absorbed by the rice.

Continue adding stock and cooking until there is one ladle of broth left. Add the artichokes, lemon juice and final ladleful of broth.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Once the broth is absorbed by the rice, remove from the heat, add the cheeses and the butter and stir until the risotto is nice and creamy.

I may get accused of tooting my own horn here, but I love it when a culinary experiment of mine wields such a delicious result! The combination of asparagus, artichoke hearts and lemon was amazing, and the uber-creaminess of the two kinds of cheese made this risotto the kind of dish that made me feel like licking my plate clean! The fresh flavors made it live up to its “springtime” name, while still being warm and filling enough to be the perfect bowl of comfort food, as I wait for the actual spring to arrive.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Portobello Pepper Steak Stew

January kicks my ass every year. There are many reasons for this sad state of affair: the nasty Canadian weather is chief among them. I want nothing more than to go out for long walks with a nice thermos of tea, but the minus 8000 degree situation means I end up cooped up inside, going stir crazy from watching one-too-many episodes of "Sherlock". I also developed a crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. I definitely need to get out a bit more...

Occupying the couch with the cat has the long-term effect of making me feel like a giant potato. Let me confess something: I have no idea how much I weight! My doctor is the only one who knows, as I don't even own scales, but when I start feeling less than comfortable in my clothes, I know that something needs to be done.

I got the yoga mat out, my copy of "Punk Rock Aerobics" (go ahead, laugh, get it out of your system... and then go fly a kite!) and a good playlist and I started my meager home-workouts again. I also dusted off my copy of "Appetite for Reduction" and flagged a few recipes. This book saves my life in this post-Holidays-winter-lethargy mess that is January.

I really love that book, because eating low-fat is not something I have a problem with. Bland food is what my issue is, and this book contains NO bland recipes. Ha! I've posted a few recipes from that book, including chickpea and zucchini stew, pasta con broccoli and pad thai salad. But I got inspired to try a new one!

I was in the mood for something filling and meaty, but not too heavy, so a vegan stew was just the thing. The rich and earthy flavor of portobello mushrooms is something I can't get enough of, but I decided to rework the original recipe a bit. Isa calls for seitan, something I can never seem to find, no matter how much I look for it in every food store I walk in, so I used extra-firm tofu, that I cooked sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, and a touch of paprika and oregano, to give it a more robust flavor that would go well with the veggies and the garlicky broth. I also upped the spiciness by being more liberal with the chili flakes. A lovely hot bite is very comforting when the cold is as intense as it has been in Montreal for the past few days...

The great thing about this recipe is that it's a one-pot stew: very little dishes to do at the end! It's also ready in less than an hour (if you don't include the time to press your tofu!).

2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into strips
Freshly ground black pepper
A few pinches of paprika
1 red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
Sea salt
2 portobello caps, sliced into 1/4-inch strips
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat a large pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the tofu with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of paprika, and sauté in 1 teaspoon of the oil for about 5 minutes, until browned.

Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.

Sauté the onion and pepper with a pinch of salt in the remaining oil until the peppers are slightly blackened, about 10 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, garlic, fennel seeds, thyme, remaining salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper and sauté for 3 more minute, until the mushrooms have released their moisture.

Add the red wine, and bring to a boil over higher heat. The liquid should reduce in about 3 minutes. In a measuring cup, mix the flour into the vegetable broth to dissolve into a slurry (start by adding the flour to 1/4 cup of broth, mix vigorously until think and dissolved, then add the remaining broth). Lower the heat and add the slurry to the pan. Mix well and let thicken for a minute.

Add the tofu back to the pan and let the stew thicken further, in about 5 minutes, it should be slightly thickened but smooth and luscious.

Taste for salt and seasoning and serve.

I served it with some baked potatoes (and I put sour cream on my potato... thus killing the vegan of the recipe. Sorry... kinda...) but rice would be a perfect bed for a few spoonfuls of this delight. You can even try to make a messy wrap with some tortillas!

This is a great winter recipe: filling, comforting, full of bold flavors and vitamin C! I LOVE freshly ground black pepper so I went crazy with the grinder, and was I ever right! The beautiful peppery kick really hit the spot on a cold winter evening. It reheats very well and makes a delicious lunch. You may want to double the recipe if you have company!!