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.