Be Not Afraid

Dear readers.  I come to you with a humble offering.  In my former life at Furman (my metaphorical womb) our dining hall was my version of an umbilical cord, feeding me nutritious meals for the delicious price of $0. Thanks, Mom and Dad. However, we all have to be born sometime. Since my delivery from Furman, I have sought to re-create the healthfulness of dinner--and maybe up the delicious factor a notch.  Sometimes I have succeeded, sometimes failed miserably. Tackling the kitchen by myself can be a daunting task.

For all of you who are also faced with the frightening notion of COOKING, fear not. I have a recipe that sounds wildly complicated but is really quite simple. Risotto. Light, delicious, easy. A true triple threat.
And yes, you read me correctly. For although traditional risotto (one of the staples of Milanese cuisine) may strike fear into the hearts of novice cooks and health nuts--what with its creamy texture and use of multiple pots--this recipe is easy and much lighter than typical risotto. Behold.
asparagus-and-ham-risotto.jpg picture by abonney
Springtime Risotto
Dishes Needed
One sauce pan (for heating the stock)
One large non-stick pan for making the rest of the dish
Food Ingredients
One large box of vegetable or chicken stock (contains about four cups).
One cup arborio rice. Don't try to use a different rice, it won't work. The way that type of rice is meant to be prepared is perfect for a risotto dish.
One half cup dry wine. Cooking wine is fine, but I prefer to make my dishes with the same wine that I will serve. Makes the flavors blend better. But don't go with a sweet wine.  A dry pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc works much, much better.
One half cup freshly grated parmesean cheese.
Two tablespoons (or as I say, a glug) of olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste.
For seasoning, a few strands of saffron are delicious.
spanishsaffrontreads.jpg image by abonney
However, if saffron is a. too expensive or b. unavailable, a pinch of turmeric works, too.
0013729c050d0931f7f201.jpg image by abonney
Not as light a flavor, but gives the dish a little kick.
Now to the vegetables. That is where you can have some fun.
The original recipe calls for leeks and green garlic. And while I agree that leeks give a light "oniony" flavor without being to strong, and green garlic gives that much-needed garlic punch without being to heavy--I don't believe either are necessary. Go for leeks and green garlic if you want to go for broke, but otherwise I say don't worry about it. Onion and garlic work just fine. Just don't get too much of either. And whatever you do, cut them thin thin thin. These are meant to be compliments, not overpowering agents.
I say half a small-medium onion and one garlic clove is plenty.
And there are the basics. As for vegetables, you can go wild. I think peas, artichokes, sauteed mushrooms, or asparagus would be really delicious in this dish. I tried it with  frozen peas, and it was great. So feel free to try anything. Half the fun of cooking is the experimenting.
In your saucepan, bring your chicken/vegetable stock to a simmer. It needs to be heated up when you add it to the rice.
In your large non-stick skillet, add your olive oil, onion and garlic, and put to a medium heat. You want to cook these down to release their flavor, but do not brown them. Three minutes is probably good. They still have alotta cookin' to do.
Once those are in good shape, add your rice, and maybe a little more olive oil. It's your call. The coolest thing about arborio rice is that you toast it first. Stir it all around to make sure it is all coated with a little olive oil, about three minutes.
Then turn up the heat a little and add your spices--turmeric or saffron, a pinch of salt, and the wine. Cook until it is absorbed.
Then start adding your stock, about one cup to start.  The broth should bubble. Continue adding a little more as your rice absorbs all the liquid. A half cup every few minutes does it. And keep stirring. You will be adding new liquid for 20-25 minutes.
Once all the liquid is mostly cooked down and your rice is taking on a creamy texture, add in your cheese and other vegetables. I put in my peas in their frozen state and the heat from the rice cooked them right away. Canned artichokes are already cooked so they can go right in. And if you want mushrooms or asparagus, I recommend cooking them seperately in a little olive oil and maybe a little wine before you put them in. But that does use a third pan. I know. I know. Lotta pans for one dish.
Once all that is stirred in, your rice is soft and creamy, and everything is fragrant and delicious, serve it right up with a little pepper on top! I promise you, it sounds complicated, but it is easy. Really. A perfect spring or summer dish to be served with white wine. If you want to make a full meal for it, I suggest a crisp salad with a little olive oil and lemon juice as dressing.
Happy cooking!