Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Spring! Sort Of...

If you live in the midwestern United States, there are a few things you know to be true.

a.) Seafood, which you love, is expensive...and if it's not, then the quality is doubtful.

b.) People who live outside the Midwest aren't usually quite sure where exactly your state is located.  They know general area, but Iowa is Idaho is Ohio is North Dakota for them...and it's totally whatever, you know.

c.) Weather is a capricious, capricious thing.  Snow one day, sixty degrees and sunny the next.

After the first day of spring a couple of weeks ago, we were hit by five inches of snow shortly afterwards...Mother Nature's way of reminding us not to put our faith in psuedo-prophetic burrowing rodents.  Of course, the snow was gone in about three days - and I think I can finally, finally say that spring is definitely, permanently, here.

And when I think of spring, I think of asparagus.

I am preparing a Celebration of Spring event for the winery next month (see link here), and the menu includes salmon with arugula sauce, spring risotto, and gingered baby carrots.  Now, I always try to do a test run of all the recipes before show time, and thankfully, my husband and kids are willing guinea pigs.  Two nights ago, I attempted the risotto.  Before culinary school, I'd never made risotto before, mostly because I didn't want to spend 25 minutes stirring it.  I mean, risotto is needy! And it's a little complicated because you need, like, three pans at once.'s also totally worth it.

Forget for a moment that the plate says "My mom is nice", and that there's a chicken breast on top of everything, and try to admire the risotto underneath.  Asparagus and spring peas all bound up in a yummy, creamy, Arborio rice goodness.

If that's not spring, then I don't know what is!

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp butter
Half an onion, diced (shallots would be better, but I didn't have them at that moment)
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice

Sauté onion for 4-6 minutes, until tender.  Add rice and stir, coating all grains.

2/3 cup white wine (I used a Chardonnay)
4-5 cups chicken stock, simmering on stove

Add the white wine and simmer, stirring often.  Even all wine is nearly evaporated, stir in two ladles of the chicken stock.  When the most of the stock absorbs (a little liquid will be left in pan), add more stock.  Continue this until either stock is gone, or rice is cooked to desired tenderness.

1 lb. asparagus, tough ends trimmed
10 ounces fresh or frozen peas (if frozen, thaw first)
Pan of boiling, salted water

Blanch the asparagus and peas briefly in the water, long enough to bring out the brilliant color.  Immediately place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

1 tbsp lemon zest
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

When risotto is nearly done (and you'll have to taste to know this), add the vegetables, and the above ingredients.  Let risotto continue to simmer, adding more chicken stock if needed.  Risotto should take on that "creamy" texture.

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Gently stir in these two ingredients when risotto is completely done.  Serve while hot.

I'm not going to lie - risotto is time-consuming (this particular recipe adds a couple of extra steps).  But...sometimes, delicious things take time.  And I guess it's worth it to me!

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