Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Arugula and Walnut Risotto

It will become clear over the next few posts that my love for risotto has recently turned into a mild obsession with the gooey, creamy carbilicious dish. I've made it with butter, with cheese, with walnut oil and spinach, with shrimp and andouille. Even as I write this I think "wow, the only meal you haven't really touched is dessert. ...Dessert risotto? Wait! Breakfast risotto?" See? I've crossed a line.

Any other February I'd swear up and down the trend is attributed to the chilly winter temperatures, but anyone living in south central Indiana knows that excuse is entirely invalid. We've been enjoying what I now refer to as "fake winter" where days are in the 30s or 40s and you barely have to scrape ice from your windshield. And let me tell you. I find it blissful.

Regardless, the month on the calendar has been putting me in the mood for comfort foods of sorts. As far as comfort foods go, risotto is topped by only a few in my book (because, let's get real, macaroni and cheese is second to none). It truly is a simple dish to make, even if it does require a bit of an attentive eye. It manages to still be creamy even when additional fats are few and far between. It can be made as a heavy, hearty meal or a light, but filling one.

Risotto recipes can be a little daunting with the obligatory "don't walk away or you food will burn to ashes!" disclaimer I find in so many of them. While you need to keep an eye on your stove to make sure your rice still has enough liquid, I find occasionally stirring the rice or pouring on stock/water/broth does the trick every time. Most standard sized recipes (1 cup rice with 3-4 cups broth) will take 25-30 minutes to cook the rice through, give or take depending on what else the recipe calls for.

Here are the three most important things to keep in mind when you're cooking risotto:

  • Lay out all your ingredients before hand - it makes it much easier to be quick on your feet when the rice is cooking!
  • Keep an eye on it while it's cooking - if it begins to dry out, stir in more liquid.
  • When it's done, it's done - taste the rice from time to time to check for doneness. If you need more liquid than the recipe calls for, add it. If you don't use it all before the rice is ready, leave it.

If you want, you can always cook it low and slow, or at a lower temperature and for more time than the recipe calls for - medium-low instead of medium and 40 minutes instead of 30. It'll take more time to finish, but start there if that's where you're comfortable.

Here's a recipe for a great dead-of-winter risotto, especially because arugula is found fairly easily this time of year. It works very well as a side dish for roasted chicken but will also stand alone as a meal on its own.

Arugula and Walnut Risotto
40 minutes
Serves 4 Generously

  • 6-8 cups arugula, loosely packed
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • ¼ cup parmesan, grated
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped

1.   Place 3 cups of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Place the arugula in the water for 30 seconds, then transfer to an ice bath.
2.   Remove the arugula from the ice bath and blend it in a food processor or chop finely.
3.   In the same saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the rice for one minute or until the rice begins to look toasted.
4.   Add the onion and cook for an additional minute.
5.   Add the wine and stir occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed.
6.   Add the vegetable stock ½ - 1 cup at a time until the rice is cooked through.
7.   When the rice is done, remove from the heat and stir in butter, parmesan and walnuts.
8.   Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. Cooking and cooling the arugula will allow it to soften and keep the bright green color in tact. The easiest way to prepare an ice bath is to fill a large bowl with ice water and place a small strainer within the larger bowl.
  2. You may not need all of the vegetable stock. Taste occasionally to make sure the rice does not get overcooked. If the rice is done and there is stock leftover, save it for later. If you run out of stock and need more liquid, add water.

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