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Risotto used to be a magical food to me. Creamy and flavorful, I don’t recall eating much of it growing up, except at restaurants.

When I began cooking in college at a vegetarian co-op, I decided it was also one of those things that must have taken hours of hot work over the stove to produce. Which was probably true when you were cooking for 60 people. But when I left the nest and began cooking for myself, risotto was one of the first one-pot meals I tackled.

Turns out, it doesn’t take much to make delicious risotto, as long as you’re not afraid of a little butter and cheese. Even better, it’s infinitely adaptable: I’ve made risotto with sausage and fennel; mushrooms; squash and sage; and any number of other ingredients that have lost their way in the crevices of my produce drawer. Since I’ve discovered how easy it is to make, risotto has become a staple weeknight dinner option.

This is a somewhat non-traditional version, with goat cheese and meyer lemon to brighten up the winter, and a bit of kale tossed in for color.

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Meyer Lemon, Goat Cheese and Kale Risotto
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type: main dish
author: robin
prep time: 10 mins
cook time: 30 mins
total time: 40 mins
A bright and colorful winter risotto, with extra tang from the goat cheese.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
  • zest of 2 meyer lemons
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2-3 oz shredded lacinto/dino kale (about 1/3 of a bunch–this is what I used, but I’m sure red Russian or normal kale works as well)
  • 1/3 cup parmesean cheese, grated
  • 2 oz goat cheese
Instructions
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, shallots, and garlic, and saute until soft. Add risotto and saute for another minute.
  2. Add wine to the pot and simmer until it’s almost all absorbed.
  3. Begin adding the stock, about half a cup at a time. Wait for the grain to absorb most of the liquid before adding the next half-cup. You’ll know the risotto is done when it’s soft and no longer crunchy.
  4. Turn off the burner, and add the kale, lemon zest, goat cheese, and parmesean. Stir to incorporate all ingredients evenly, until kale wilts and cheese melts.
Notes

Swap out farro or pearled barley for the arborio rice for more of a whole-grain-y meal. You’ll need to up the stock and the cooking time, since they’ll take longer to cook and absorb more liquid in the process.

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I’ve been saving up this recipe for a month now, as I prepared to launch this blog. It’s taken me numerous false starts over many months to get here, but I was officially inspired to do something about it when my friend Julie started her own food blog, which I’ve adored. There may not be any favas left in the market this season, but they do exist right now in my mother’s garden in the San Francisco suburbs.

I helped her plant the garden in April. We worried first that the seeds had been washed away by harsh late spring rains. Then the youngsters suffered almost a week of warm weather with no water at all. We were convinced that they wouldn’t survive. But survive they did, and thrive even. Perhaps it’s the new soil. Or maybe the

The past few months have brought erratic weather to San Francisco. A week of 80-degree days in January, a rainy Memorial Day weekend, and many a fog-soaked spring morning. Yet spring vegetables were right on schedule, with fava beans, shelling peas, green garlic, and asparagus flooding the farmer’s markets in May. My sister first riffed on using favas as a base for pesto last spring, and I was inspired again when they appeared for $1/lb. at the Alemany farmer’s market in May.

fava beans before and after shelling

Favas are a slippery legume that take some work to prepare. Honestly, they’re probably best made when you have an army of small children to help you shell. See, first you must shell the beans, then quickly boil them, then shell again to get to the creamy bean on the inside. But oh, is the time ever worth the reward. Especially when there’s a reward like this pesto waiting.

They’re best on a lazy Sunday afternoon, while evenings lengthen from spring to summer. We don’t have many wraparound porches and warm early summer evenings in San Francisco, but if we did, I’d spend my porch-sitting time shelling favas.

Fava bean, roasted garlic, and toasted walnut pesto

I’ve played with this recipe several times, and it turns out a little differently every time. I use the itty-bitty Cuisinart attachment for my stick blender to bring all the pieces together since I lack a real food processor. This gives my pesto a more rustic texture. Blending it more in your larger food processor of choice will produce a smoother, creamier sauce. I’ve used goat cheese here, but you could also use creme fraiche, mascarpone, or even ricotta if that’s what you happen to have in the fridge.

For the fava pesto:

  • 2 lbs fava beans
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • 1 head of garlic, roasted
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. roasted walnut oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Prep the favas

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove favas from outer shell while water is coming to a boil. Dunk fava beans into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and immediately dump them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You don’t want to overcook them here. Slip the favas from their inner skins. This can be done either with the aid of fingernails or a paring knife. Ideally they will emerge from the water and their inner skins with a brilliant green hue. Reserve 1/2 cup of favas for garnish, and add the rest to the pesto.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti. Cook pasta until it’s al dente.

Make the pesto

Combine shelled and peeled favas in food processor with goat cheese, roasted garlic (I chop the top off the garlic, wrap it in foil, add a spot of olive oil, and pop it in the toaster oven for 40 minutes or so at 400 degrees), oils, 1/3 cup of the walnuts, and salt. Process until mostly smooth.

Toast remaining walnuts, either in a pan on the stovetop, or a tray in the toaster oven.

Put it all together

Combine cooked pasta, 1 tbsp butter, pesto, toasted walnuts, and reserved favas, and combine.

Or, use your fava pesto as a delicious spread for sandwiches, toast, or crackers. It’ll keep for up to a week or so in the fridge.

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