Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout
This delicious risotto is perfect to serve at a dinner party.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 55 minutes
Total: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 4 to 5 main course servings.
- 2 large carrots, in 1/2" pieces
- 2 celery stalks, in 1/2" pieces
- 10 peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- several sprigs thyme and/or parsley
- 2 quarts water
- well-washed trimmings from the veggies (see instructions)
- 2 or 3 large spring onions or leeks, sliced and washed
- 2 or 3 stalks green garlic, sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- additional stock
- 1 large bunch asparagus, ends snapped, bodies sliced on the diagonal into 1" pieces, tips left whole, (1 pound)
- 1 pound english peas, shelled
- 1 pound fava beans, shelled, blanched and peeled if necessary
- several tablespoons fresh herbs (see headnote)
- juice of 1/2 a lemon, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced , (about 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves , (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus extra
- stock, above
For the stock:
Combine the stock ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven and place over high heat. As you prepare the veggies for the ragout, add the cleaned trimmings from the spring onions or leeks, green garlic, asparagus, the pea pods, and any other vegetables you decide to use. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. Strain into a large bowl or measuring cup.
For the risotto:
Next, begin the risotto. If the stock has cooled, heat it to a simmer in a large saucepan. Place a large skillet over medium-hight heat. Add the saffron threads and heat, shaking the pan, for a minute or two until the threads are dry, brittle and fragrant. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the butter, then add the onions, thyme leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until each grain of rice is translucent with an opaque pearl in the center, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, give it a stir, and let the wine evaporate. Now begin to add the stock in 1 cup increments. After each addition, give the mixture a stir, and cook at a bare simmer until most of the liquid had been absorbed. You don't need to stir it continuously, but do stir it enough to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, making sure to reach into the corners (I find the flat wooden paddle in the pictures above to be the perfect tool). Continue in this way until the rice is tender to your liking, 20-30 minutes more. (If you run out of stock, it's ok; just use a bit of water.) The grains of rice should be distinct with a thick and creamy 'sauce' coating each grain. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the parmesan and taste for salt.
For the ragout:
When the risotto is about halfway done, begin the ragout. Melt the butter and olive oil together in another large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, green garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt and saute until meltingly tender, 10 minutes or so. Add the wine, and cook until evaporated. Add the asparagus and enough stock to moisten, a ladleful or two, and simmer until bright green and crisp-tender. Add the peas and blanched favas and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the herbs and lemon juice. Taste for salt and acidity, and add a grind or two of pepper if you like.
To serve, mound the risotto on large plates and make a shallow well in the center. Spoon the ragout into the well. Top with freshly grated parmesan and a shower of fresh herbs.
Nothing is fast and hard about this recipe; use whatever veggies you want in the ragout. Nice additions could be fennel, baby artichokes, tiny carrots, turnips or gold beets, spinach or arugula leaves, mushrooms (especially fresh morels), and additional fresh herbs such as chives, basil, mint, chervil or tarragon. You could also put a slab of grilled or broiled fish atop the stack and drizzle with extra lemon juice, olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs. Either way, have a bottle of crisp white wine handy, such as a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc; you'll need 1/4 cup each for the risotto and the ragout; the rest you will need for drinking.
While I am bossing you around, I'd recommend starting your meal with a perky salad, having some crusty bread handy for mopping up ragout juices, and finishing the meal with something bright, like lemon balm ice cream or lemon-almond cake with fresh berries.
The risotto is best eaten when just finished, otherwise the rice continues to absorb the liquid and becomes overly soft. To get the timing right, make the stock and prepare the ragout ingredients first. Begin the risotto next, and when it is halfway done, prepare the ragout. Have your peas and favas shucked and your favas blanched and slipped before beginning the risotto and things should be ready to go at the same time. If you find your risotto is cooking too quickly, just turn it off before it is done, then resume cooking it when you are almost ready to plate.
To make risotto cakes with leftover risotto:
Place 1/4 cup flour on a shallow plate. In a shallow bowl, beat an egg (or an egg white) until homogeneous. Fill another shallow bowl with a cup or two of fresh bread crumbs. Scoop up 1/4 cup cooled risotto (a spring loaded ice cream scoop works well for this) and pat into a patty with moistened hands. Dredge the patties first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wide skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast iron) and when it shimmers, carefully place the patties in the hot oil. Fry until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with leftover ragout, a dusting of parmesan and a green salad if you like.
Risotto adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
Nutritional values are based on one of five servings.
Calories: 759kcal | Carbohydrates: 108g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 245mg | Potassium: 947mg | Fiber: 17g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 7265IU | Vitamin C: 65.8mg | Calcium: 219mg | Iron: 8.3mg