We’re into the home stretch with our June Cookbook Challenge write-ups, but we’ve saved some of the best for last. Today, we’re going to be sharing with you three dishes that combined to make one of the most enjoyable meals we’ve had at home in recent memory.
Part of the appeal came from the fact that we were cooking up recipes from three of our most-often used resources, so we were comfortable with their approach and generally confident in the outcomes. Another part came from the fact that we were able to once again find recipes whose primary ingredients we already had on hand. But the most important part was the simplest: all three dishes were absolutely delicious.
Over the course of the day, we’ll be putting up the three recipes that made up the meal you see at the beginning of this post. First up: a mint and pea risotto from Risotto, another cookbook from Parragon Publishing’s ‘Essentials Collection.’
Details and more photos after the jump.
There was a time when we believed that risotto was the kind of meal that was best left to the professionals. Between the expensive arborio rice and the potential for over- or under-cooking the dish, it just didn’t seem like something we wanted to try our hands at. Then I took a job at Trader Joe’s, and we discovered their very inexpensive arborio. Why not give it a try? We picked up this book and decided to take a crack at it.
And we surprised ourselves. It turns out risotto is not so much difficult as it is needy. It’s not the kind of dish you can prep and then walk away from while it simmers. Risotto needs steady attention, between the stirring and the frequent addition of broth to the grains. Probably because we were so worried about screwing it up, we hovered over the cooking from beginning to end, and it turned out great.
After that, risotto moved from occasional splurge at an Italian restaurant to cold weather comfort food. We even tried our hands at a few variations to impress dinner guests. And the basic recipe became like second nature.
So for the June Cookbook Challenge, we wanted to go a bit beyond the basic; we wanted to find a recipe that incorporated something fresh and seasonal. We found it in this Mint & Pea Risotto.
We started by boiling 8 cups of chicken bouillon and then reducing it to a gentle simmer. In a separate (large) pan, we heated two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and then stirred in one small finely-chopped onion. The onion cooked for about five minutes, just long enough to soften up but not long enough to brown.
At this point we added two and a quarter cups of Arborio rice to the pan and stirred it around for three or four minutes until the grains looked almost translucent. This is when the close watch kicks in. From here on out, it’s all about adding that bouillon, a ladleful at a time, to the rice and onions and then stirring it as the grains soak up the liquid. Each time the pan seems to be drying out, add another ladleful and continue stirring. For us, this process always takes the better part of thirty minutes, until we’ve added almost all the boullion and the rice is just a bit resistant to your bite.
In this recipe, we also added one cup of freshly-shelled peas from the farmers’ market into the risotto when it looked like there were still about four ladlefuls of bouillon remaining. This gave them time to cook a bit, but not so long as to become mushy. We also added four tablespoons of shredded fresh mint, which we pulled from the Shenandoah Growers’ plant we’ve got growing on our deck, at the same time. We pulled the risotto from the heat when the rice had that perfect consistency and then stirred in one cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
For this meal, the risotto was to be a side dish – not the main course. We figured an entree portion of risotto would be too heavy for a warm summer evening (not to mention less than helpful to our attempts to eat lighter), so we just wanted to get a taste of the dish alongside some others. As luck would have it, the risotto went perfectly with our main course and a salad of warm zucchini and tomatoes, which we’ll be sharing next.