Basil Risotto – Herbs are Vegetables, Too

Basil Risotto
Leafy greens.  For most Americans, this isn’t the most appealing set of words.  However, most of us might just think LETTUCE or  SPINACH or KALE and think, “How on earth am I supposed to eat several cups of that a week?!  Lettuce not forget about herbs (please forgive that pun, I really had no other choice.)  They are brimming with nutrients! It’s such an easy and flavorful way to add more vitamins and fiber to your diet and your recipes.  I always tend to forget that things like basil, thyme, oregano, mint – these are quite leafy and quite green, too!  Sure, you can’t eat as much of them as you can kale in one sitting, but a mild basil goes amazingly well with spinach and can really add a lot of interest to a dish.  Basil is full of beta-carotene, Vitamin A, K and its leaves are rich with essential oils known for being anti-inflammatory.  And lucky you, the summertime is a time when basil grows like a weed!  

I realize that lettuces, spinach, cabbages, etc, are sometimes challenging for little ones (and me) to eat.  But I’ve fully gotten Olive acclimated to the flavors of pesto and I consider that a small victory.  It’s green, so it opens the door for other vegetables to eventually be accepted as well.  For this creamy, bright risotto, I made a pureed basil (not really pesto as I didn’t have Parmesan or pine nuts on hand) with just basil, garlic and garlic oil and stirred it into my risotto in the last minute of cooking.  Garnished with a chiffonade of fresh basil and we had lunch!  Olive loved it and I loved that while it seemed like comfort food, it was actually quite healthy and nutritious for us both.  Not a lot of butter and oil – just good chicken stock (which is amazing for your health on its own), basil, onion and rice!

I encourage you to think of herbs as a choice for getting more vegetables into your diet.  And what better herb to start with than basil?

Pesto Risotto
Basil Risotto

serves 6-8 as a meal

2 cups arborio rice
2 TBS butter
5-6 cups good chicken stock (low sodium if store-bought or just use water and season later)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove
2 cups packed basil leaves
4 TBS olive oil (I used garlic oil)
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste

In a large cup with an immersion blender or in a food processor, blend the basil leaves, olive oil, garlic and about a half tsp salt and pepper.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.  You can full out make a regular pesto if you want, but this is what I had on hand and it worked great.  If you make a full batch of pesto, only stir in about 1/4th of a cup into your risotto.

In a large saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a simmer.

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, melt the butter until it starts to bubble and then saute the onion and garlic until soft, stirring to not let the garlic burn.  Stir in the rice and stir to fully coat in the butter and onion.  Begin adding 1/2 cups of stock to the pan, stirring pretty regularly to ensure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  When the liquid cooks off, add another 1/2 cup and keep this process up until you’re down to about a cup of stock and have been cooking it for at least 20 minutes.  Near the end, taste the rice – you don’t want it crunchy, but you don’t want it mushy either.  Think of it like pasta – a nice bite to it is key.  Stir in another half cup of stock if you think it could use it and then add in the basil paste.  Remove pan from the heat and serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh basil or a grating of fresh Parmesan and cracked pepper.

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Roasted Salmon with Lima Bean Risotto

lima bean risotto and salmon
This week is really busy already! Hence, being behind in my posting! The Palmer house is bustling with preparations for the first annual Carpenter’s Banquet this Friday.  We are cooking for about 250 people, and my friends, that is a LOT of food.  I am amazed by how much it really is.  Forty heads of lettuce for the salads, forty butternut squash, fifty eggs for the bread pudding, two gallons of salted caramel for the bread pudding.  Two gallons?!  Of caramel?  It just adds up.  Anything multiplied by 250 is going to be insane and I will be the first to say that I’m super glad I’m not a caterer!  I think it’s going to be an amazing event and all the proceeds from ticket sales and the silent auction will go directly to Carpenter’s Church for their supportive housing project.  It’s nice to be a part of something so good.

Tonight, we also shot the second show for our 24 Frames segment, and I’m super excited that Matt got to be a part of this episode!  It is about our very regular pizza nights and Matt’s perfect pizza crust!  I can’t wait to see what Paul and Daniel do after the first episode turned out surprisingly wonderful, considering I was in it. 🙂

Tonight I give you a simple dish that is packed with flavor.  It’s a riff off of yet another Tyler Florence recipe from his wonderful family cookbook, Start Fresh.  The recipe originally called for peas, but I had lima beans and I think it worked great!  I loved this dish because it was really simple to make and had a protein, a starch and a vegetable in just two dishes!  And it felt super comforting without being too heavy.  We’ve got a few chilly nights left in this season, I’m afraid, but with dishes like this, it won’t be so bad to stay in and cook!

salmon and lima bean risotto - great for toddlers

 

Roasted Salmon with Lima Bean Risotto
serves 4 or 6-8 child servings

2 tbs olive oil
1 pound salmon fillet, bones removed and cut into 4 portions
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup lima beans
1 cup Arborio rice
1 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the over to 400F.

Season the salmon portions with salt and pepper. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the salmon pieces and cook without turning until browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the salmon just flakes when tested with a fork, about ten minutes.

In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over medium heat.  Add the lima beans, reduce heat, and cook until bright green, about 2 minutes.  Scoop out the beans into a bowl.  Transfer half of the beans to a blender and puree until smooth.  Set aside.  Keep the broth warm on the stove.

In a large saucepan, toast the rice over medium heat, stirring often, until the rice has a nutty aroma, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the broth, one cup at a time, stirring and waiting until each addition is almost absorbed before adding more.  Continue until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Before all the liquid has been absorbed, stir in both the pureed and whole beans, butter, and cheese.  Serve the salmon fillets on top of the risotto, or flake the salmon into bite size pieces and serve risotto on the side, like I did for Ollie’s plate in the pic above! Enjoy!

Mexican Chocolate and Horchata Risotto

Horchata Risotto
I really can’t think of a better day to make this dish than today.  It’s cold, cloudy and all I want to do is eat complex carbs, sprinkle cinnamon on them and then take a nap.  The other day, I found a recipe in my cute little French non-diet diet book for a simple chocolate rice pudding.  I started improvising and adding cinnamon.  Then more cinnamon.  Then some cream, then more vanilla.  It started tasting exactly like horchata, my favorite Mexican beverage, and I was happy.  I even thought, “Why ruin this horchata by adding the chocolate the recipe calls for?”  So I ladled out half of the rice pudding and added the chocolate to the other half.  Woah.  Insanely good.  The intense cinnamon and vanilla, mixed with the dark chocolate was a revelation.  Such a depth of flavor you wouldn’t really expect from something as seemingly bland as a rice pudding.  It was amazing.  And with just a little extra cream to loosen up the consistency, it was exactly the way risotto should be, only sweet!  Dessert risotto – you heard it here first, folks.  I think it should be a “thing” if it isn’t already.  It’s going to be a “thing” in this house, at least!

Mexican Chocolate Risotto

Horchata/Mexican Chocolate Risotto
serves 4 as a dessert

2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup Arborio rice (this is risotto rice that plumps up and absorbs a lot of moisture.  I’d really recommend not using any other kind)
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tbs cinnamon
– then, for Mexican Chocolate, stir in 3 ounces dark chocolate chips (the darker the better – I used 70%)

Pour the milk, sugar and salt into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add the rice and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the milk is absorbed.  You may need to add  a few more splashes of milk or cream to keep the rice creamy.  It may take more time and more milk in order for the rice to not be crunchy anymore.

Stir in the vanilla and cinnamon and taste.  Revel.  Feel happy.  Then, when you’re ready, add in the chocolate to the entire batch or just half, like I did.  Stir until fully melted and incorporated.  Sprinkle with extra cinnamon and a sprinkle of cayenne if you dare.  Serve with a warm cup of hot chocolate and be sure you’re wearing fuzzy slippers.

Enjoy.

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus

pea asparagus rice

There is a beautiful quarterly cookbook/magazine called Canal House cooking.  It is founded by two friends who meet together every day to talk about what they had for dinner the night before, and then they get cooking.  They decided to start writing down their recipes and what resulted was this beautiful magazine book.  I like to try recipes out that are in season, and so I am currently going through their Spring issue.  And even though there aren’t a  lot of fresh peas in our produce bins, I know that they are currently in season somewhere out there in lands where it rains, so I felt this was still an appropriate recipe for an overcast May day.  Asparagus is also in season, so I added some chopped up that I had roasted a few nights before and it was a really excellent addition.  Canal House calls this dish Risi E Bisi  (rice and peas) and it’s just that simple.

This is an excellent dish for little ones.  The comfort of soft rice and cheese and the addition of greens and a dab of butter makes this dish all-inclusive. For smaller, toothless ones, this would be so simple to pulse a few times with an immersion blender!  Olive still doesn’t like asparagus, but I think I’ve only given it to her 5 times.  I’m going to try at least 15 more times before I determine that she does not, in fact, love asparagus.  I challenge any  mom out there to do the same!  Case in point: I had nearly determined that Olive didn’t like peas until I hadn’t given them to her for a week or so, and then tried again and she gobbled them up.  I realized that familiarity equals good for a child.  So if you make a wide variety of vegetables simply familiar to a child, the enthusiasm will soon follow.  I believe this with all my heart, even on days where Olive spits out anything green.  One day she won’t, and I’ll be glad I didn’t let her under-developed, under-exposed palate determine her food preferences!

green rice

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus
serves 6

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 tbs butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups fresh peas (you could also use frozen, as I did and it turned out great)
salt
6 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, or other short grain rice.  I didn’t have any on hand, so I used plain long grain white and it was just fine.
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
pepper to taste
1 bunch asparagus, roasted at 400 with olive oil, salt and pepper until tender

Heat the olive oil and 2 tbs of the butter together in a heavy medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft and golden, 5-10 minutes.  Add the peas and season with salt.  Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup of the hot stock.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the peas until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice and 4 cups of the remaining hot stock. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil.  Cook the rice, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and moisten the rice and peas (if needed and too thick) with the remaining cup of stock (I didn’t do this step – my rice didn’t absorb as much as arborio would have) Stir in the remaining 2 tbs of butter and half of the cheese.  Fold in the chopped, roasted asparagus if you want.  Season with salt and pepper and serve sprinkled with remaining cheese.