It was 82 degrees yesterday. Blazing sunshine, singing birds, leaves budding on the trees, grass green on the lawns (well, not so much our lawn). I was inspired to cook something very spring-ish. Given the temperature, I'm surprised I wanted to fire up the cooktop, but I had the ingredients on hand for a yummy spring risotto, so I went ahead and did it.
Green screams spring, so some fresh zucchini was in order. We can't get proper, fresh peas in Colorado (or at least not quickly enough to use them before they lose their sweetness), so I dug some frozen peas out of the icebox, as well as some frozen fava beans as I haven't seen fresh in my market yet.
A moment on fava beans. Despite the fact that they are EXTREMELY labor intensive to cook fresh, they are worth it. You can find a zillion recipes on the web, but I would pick up a vegetable cookbook from the library such as Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop and experiment with the recipes therein. Or, be lazy and buy them frozen, or just order them anytime you see them on the menu in a restaurant in the springtime. They are delicious and different and extremely fleeting. Enjoy them in their short and delectable season.
I had a handful of shrimp in the freezer and some grains in the pantry. I decided to use barley for a change and a little healthful kick. There's always butter and parmesan in the fridge and stock in the pantry, so I was set to cook. I made enough for 2-3 servings.
I followed the typical risotto methodology. I put about 6 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth on the back burner over low heat. I melted a knob of butter over medium heat and lightly sauteed two small cut up zucchini for about 8 minutes then removed with a slotted spoon. Next, I sauteed the thawed shrimp (about 4 per person will do) in the same non-stick pan until pink and cooked through, then removed with the same slotted spoon.
I diced a small onion and put it in the same pan with a little oil. After it softened over low heat (took about 5 min), I raised the heat back to medium and added 3/4 cup of rinsed barley. I let it toast over the heat for about 3 minutes, then added 1/3 cup of dry Vermouth (or white wine or whatever you feel like/have on hand). Stirring with some frequency, I waited for the vermouth to cook in.
Once the vermouth is in, it's risotto time. Add broth, one cup (or large ladleful) at a time and stir it in/then stir occasionally until it is absorbed. Do this again and again (for about 30 minutes) until the grain has released its starch and become creamy. Start tasting after 30 minutes and continue to add liquid until it reaches your desired consistency. I keep the kettle full of water (it's electric) so I can add water if I run out of broth.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it's not. You don't have to stand directly over the stove the entire time (though you do need to be close by). You can have a conversation with guests and do this 30 minute part through the end. And there's great satisfaction to making something slowly, bringing it along by hand and having an amazing result. Try it once. Just try it!
Once you've hit creamy and delicious, add the sauteed zucchini and shrimp, the thawed peas and fava beans (or whatever veg you're in the mood for) and sautee/warm through for 2-3 min. Then, remove the pan from heat, add a knob of butter and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, stir it in, then put on a lid and wait for 2 minutes. Lift the lid, give it another stir and serve immediately, garnished with a bit more cheese or fresh herbs (chives would be great here) if you wish.
Voila and yum!