I love spring. Food-wise, it’s my favorite season for produce. I’m a huge fan of peas, leeks, asparagus, arugula, greens, and radishes. So, when I saw a beautiful bunch of leeks at the farm stand this weekend, I couldn’t resist, even though I was still a bit tired from being ill earlier in the week. Luckily, leeks cook up into almost any meal beautifully. Also luckily, my husband will help me cook when I ask.
We decided to go with a risotto for two reasons. First, risottos are a great one-pot meal that can be adapted for pretty much any ingredient and any flavor that you want to use. It’s a blank canvas. We were able to pick out what looked good at the market and plan from there instead of having to seek out certain ingredients. Second, risotto night is always a fun, collaborative experience for my husband and me. I do the prep, he does the actual cooking, and we both hang out in the kitchen, drink some wine (the wine needs to be opened for the recipe anyway—there’s no need to waste it), and listen to music . It’s a relaxing way to spend time together, and, at the end of it, you get a great meal.
There are two main keys to risotto. The first is mise en place. If you’ll remember from The Apartment Epicurean Quiz, mise en place means “putting in place”—in layman’s terms, getting everything ready before you start. Risotto is a “hurry-up-and-wait” kind of meal. You’ll feel like you have plenty of time to get things done while you’re endlessly stirring, but, trust me, things need to get added when they need to get added. If you wait a few extra minutes because you’re chopping something up, your risotto might seize up and get too thick. If you have it all ready, you can just leisurely stir and add things as they come.
The other key is patience. This is where I fail, but my husband, thankfully, does not. Risotto takes time. You cannot rush it. You need to add the liquid bit by bit, stir constantly, and wait for the rice to cook and the starches to form the lovely gooiness we all love. If you add in the liquid too fast and don’t wait for it to incorporate, your risotto will not have the right texture. So wait. You really will be thankful you did.
Risotto always seemed scary to me, but it really isn’t. It’s just a labor of love. So, give it the time, sip your wine while you stir, and just make an evening out of it. You’ll have a great time and get a decadent meal in the process.
Roasted Leek, Mushroom, and Fresh Pea Risotto
Serves 4 dinner servings or 6-8 side dish servings
8 oz. button mushrooms, chopped
5-6 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/4 c. fresh peas (1/4 cup after shelling, a large handful of pods)
3 leeks, thinly sliced and well soaked to get rid of dirt
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. rubbed sage
1 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
2-14.5 oz. cans low sodium chicken broth
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
Heat broth in a small saucepan over very low heat. The broth should be hot and steaming but should never actually boil. Keep it heating throughout the course of the cooking, but watch and adjust the heat as needed to keep it from boiling.
Melt butter in a large, flat bottomed pan on medium low. Add leeks. Cook leeks slowly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, adding garlic about halfway through cooking. When the leeks are very soft and slightly translucent, turn heat up to medium high and cook leeks another 2-3 minutes, stirring often, until they get slightly browned. Reduce heat back to medium/medium-low. Add mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are beginning to release their liquid. Add salt and sage and stir until well combined.
Add risotto to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, until the rice is looking and smelling slightly toasted. Add wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is fully absorbed. Begin adding the broth, 1/2 c. at a time. After each addition of broth, stir constantly, letting the rice slowly absorb the liquid. Do not add the next half cup of liquid until the previous one is fully absorbed. Continue doing this until the rice is tender, but with a little bit of a bite to it. Think al dente pasta—soft but still slightly chewy and not mushy. You may not use up the full two cans of broth. This process will probably take about 20-30 minutes.
When you have about a cup of broth left to add, add the peas to the risotto and continue adding broth as normally (the peas will cook as the rice does).
When the rice is the desired consistency, remove from heat and add the cheese. The cheese may make the risotto thicken up, so have broth on hand in case you need to thin it out slightly. Serve hot with a little extra parm and some fresh ground pepper on top.