rigatoni and roasted delicata squash

About two months ago my entire kitchen  – along with every other room in the four bedroom Colonial Revival home I’d lived in for the past 10 years — was packed into a seemingly endless pile of boxes and loaded onto a long distance semi trailer truck, headed for New Jersey.

It took a few professionals less than a day to wrap and pack it all, but here I am, these many weeks later still sliding razor blades, sticky from packing tape, along the tops of the few remaining boxes.

Settling into a new space is a process. As I unpacked pots, pans, dishes and so many spoons, spatulas and whisks along with them I also found things that I didn’t know I had and had no idea I needed. Like about a thousand bamboo cocktail skewers, for example. And 3 dozen souffle cups.

“Why do I have all this stuff?” I wondered over and over…the whole experience left me a more than a little traumatized. I made a promise to myself that from now on I need to imagine the inevitable exit of every single thing I bring into my house.

Cooking in my new kitchen has progressed from the baby steps of basic survival meals. I’ve been inspired by food shopping. There are fantastic markets here, so well-stocked I have to restrain myself…all I need to do is remember how I gave away my pantry while we were packing a few months ago.

One night I riffed on a recipe from Heidi’s 101 Cookbooks, a roasted delicata squash, chile and mozzarella salad. Delicata is only around for a few months (right now) and I’m always glad to see it. The beautiful, striated green and sunset yellow skin is tender enough that there’s no need to peel it — I sometimes just scrape the skin randomly here and there to remove blemishes — and the flesh roasts up tender and very sweet.

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pressed roasted vegetable sandwich

roasted vegetable sandwich

The lazy days of summer – are you feeling them yet? The calendar says it’s officially here, but we’re just as busy as ever in my house, with certain things even causing stress, making me count the days until we can leave town for some much needed down time on our favorite beach.

My style of vacation cooking is pretty simple; the only tool I bring along to our rental cottage is my favorite chef’s knife, since the kitchen there is supplied with the major essential – a lobster pot.

pressed roasted vegetable sandwich [Read more...]

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Mother Nature dropped more snow last weekend than we’ve had in something like thirty years, but that’s no reason to believe that the vernal equinox hasn’t in fact occurred, right on schedule.

Besides, the snow has almost completely melted already and there’s been a pair of busy cardinals right outside my window, getting their nest ready for…new carpeting?

Melissa Clark’s latest recipe feature in the New York Times is all about the comforts of pale (read:white) food. Maybe that’s what inspired my green risotto; all I know is that I imagined eating a bowl of something that looked and tasted of springtime.

asparagus risotto verde

I had hopes of laying hands on some asparagus. Lucky me! – my local grocery store has gorgeous, fat bunches from California on sale for $1.99 a pound (heads up, Saint Louis readers).

I’ve been getting comfortably reacquainted with one of my favorite cookbook authors, Marcella Hazan. Her basic risotto recipe is a standard in my cooking, but once I’d envisioned a particular very, very verde shade of green, I had to stray a bit from her method; stirring and cooking the risotto with the asparagus in it.

Nothing wrong with that, but by the time the risotto is done the asparagus has taken on a dull gray-green color; not exactly the intense, chlorophyll color of my springtime dreams.

I employed a color-saving culinary trick instead: blanch the asparagus, then puree the stalks immediately with a bit of parsley or spinach. This not only preserves the greenness, but really intensifies the flavor of the finished dish. I add the beautiful, tender tips to the risotto at the end.

verde asparagus puree blanched asparagus

Here are a few things to take away from Marcella regarding the techniques of a classic risotto:

  • Use a mild-flavored brodo, or light broth, as the cooking liquid; it will reduce and become more concentrated as it cooks down and becomes absorbed by the rice. A rich meat or even vegetable stock will overwhelm the delicacy of the risotto and become “distracting” to the balance of flavors.
  • The type of rice used to make risotto is important. Special varieties familiar to cooks as Arborio, as well as Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, are all defined by short grains and the amount of starch surrounding the kernels. You can use any kind of rice (or grain, for that matter) in the method of risotto-making, but there’s probably some Italian law ready to decree that what you have is a pot of boiled rice, not the true, creamy amalgamation of rice, broth, butter and Parmigiano known as risotto. Don’t blame me! Italians can get testy on this subject.
  • Finally, use the right pot to cook risotto. I almost always use an enameled cast iron Le Creuset casserole. Marcella advises that lightweight pans “are not suitable” because they will not retain heat at a moderate level. Moderation is key. A heavy 18/10 stainless-steel clad type of pan will work just fine.

asparagus risotto verde

asparagus risotto verde

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For brodo (optional – use 2 cups light chicken or vegetable broth diluted with 2 cups water if you’d rather):

1 peeled carrot

1 small onion, peeled and halved

1 small fennel bulb or 2 celery stalks; roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 very small ( less than 2-inches diameter) waxy potato, peeled and chopped

For risotto:

1 pound asparagus

Handful parsley tops or spinach leaves

Salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

½ cup finely chopped shallot or onion

½ cup pinot grigio (or other dry, white wine)

1 cup Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

4 cups brodo or light broth, as noted above

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana cheese

Fresh lemon juice from half a lemon

Thinly sliced red radish, watercress and fennel fronds (optional) for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make the brodo: put all ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with 5 cups water. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 30 minutes. Strain the brodo into another pan and keep warm.
  2. To make the risotto: Bring a small pan of salted water to a boil. Trim off the bottom inch of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the first 3 inches of the tips; slice the remaining stalks into 1-inch lengths. Drop the tips into the water and cook 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl filled with ice water. Drop the chopped stalks into the boiling water and cook exactly 3 minutes. Immediately remove the stalks with a slotted spoon and put in a blender along with the parsley or spinach. Add a pinch of salt and ½ cup of the cooking water and puree until very smooth.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until the butter melts and sizzles (but doesn’t turn brown); add the shallot and 1 teaspoon salt and cook it softened, 1 minute or so. Add the rice and stir to coat with the fat, cook until the rice begins to crackle, 1 minute.
  4. Pour in the wine, stir it around and boil until it’s evaporated. Pour in 2 cups of the brodo; bring to a steady bubble (not a violent boil) and cook until absorbed, stirring frequently for 7 – 10 minutes.
  5. Add another cup of brodo, another ½ teaspoon salt and continue cooking until almost absorbed. Watch carefully at this point – the rice will be nearly ready when the grains have swelled in volume and the liquid becomes thickened. Taste the rice – it should be tender all around, and very slightly al dente at the core. Add more liquid if needed, ¼ cup at a time until you feel it’s done. There should be some thick, starchy liquid still left in the pot. You might not use all the brodo.
  6. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the reserved asparagus puree, remaining butter and half the cheese. Stir in the lemon juice and taste the risotto for seasoning, adding more salt to taste if needed. Gently stir in the asparagus tips.
  7. Serve in bowls, topping each one with some radish, watercress and fennel fronds with additional cheese on the side.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/asparagus-risotto-verde/