Spring Vegetable & Herb Risotto
This spring vegetable and herb risotto is full of seasonal asparagus, double peeled broad beans, peas, fresh young herbs and finished with a spoon of sorrel “pesto” for extra lemony tang. I guarantee you will love this combination. Sorrel is not widely used in Australia but is popular as a creamy soup in France or to make a wonderful lemony sauce, good with fish, poultry or other light meats. The leaves are a lovely spring green but when cooked and wilted quickly become a less pleasant grey green colour. Cooking also reduces the lemony bite somewhat, giving way to a more earthy lemon flavour. To retain a bright tang you can eat the leaves raw in a salad; just slice several leaves thinly and toss in with a mix of leaves. Another way to maintain the sharper tang and the bright colour is to blitz the leaves in a blender with some olive oil to make a paste. A couple of spoons added to the risotto at the end of cooking gives it a real lift. If you are familiar with sorrel you will be amazed at the result. The combination of herbs I have suggested (mint, tarragon, parsley, thyme and sorrel) are well balanced with none being overwhelming; the mint and sorrel, in particular, partnering well. Asparagus, peas and young broad beans are wonderful seasonal stars and combining them in a risotto with soft herbs really does put spring on a plate. Enjoy.
I use the Italian carnaroli variety of rice, which is quite firm and gives its starch readily without the need for constant, gentle stirring like arborio rice. The Ferron brand of carnaroli (available from Entoteca Sileno, various grocery stores and some supermarkets) is more expensive but worth it for the texture and taste and the reduced stirring during preparation.
- 1L chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 a small leek or a shallot, finely sliced
- 1/4 cup finely diced fennel bulb
- olive oil
- 1 cup carnaroli rice
- 100 ml white wine – something with a bit of acid zing
- 1/4 cup of peas (fresh or frozen)
- 1/3 cup broad beans, double peeled*
- 6 large spears of asparagus, cut into pieces about 1 cm long (keep the tips whole for their decorative quality)
- leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 tbs of finely sliced fresh mint
- 2 tbs chopped parsley
- 1 tbs tarragon leaves
- 6-8 sorrel leaves, washed and patted dry
- 80 g unsalted butter
- 50 g grated parmesan cheese
Warm the stock in a small saucepan and keep it on a simmer while you cook the risotto. Melt a small knob of butter in a sauté pan (or whatever pot or pan you like to use for risotto) and gently cook the leek or shallot for a minute or so until soft and translucent. Turn the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat in the butter; after a minute or so when the grains show a slight translucence, pour in a glass of white wine. Pour another glass and keep handy: by the end of the cooking process this should be empty. Keep the heat up to bring the wine to a rapid simmer and reduce. When almost evaporated, add a ladle or two of hot stock, swirl the pan and allow to simmer gently until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Keep adding ladles of stock and occasionally swirling the pan until the rice is cooked to al dente, with just a fine thread of chalky white in the middle of the rice grains while a slightly thickened, starchy liquid surrounds them. All up, it will take 15 to 20 minutes to cook the rice, longer if you are on a mountain.
While the rice is cooking, add each of the vegetables in time to allow them to cook through while retaining their freshness: first the diced fennel, then the peas, the cut up asparagus stems and finally the asparagus tips. The herbs can be added near the end to keep their colour and flavour, then the broad beans and the sorrel pesto. Finally, when the rice is almost cooked and there is just a little more liquid left than you want, turn off the heat, add the grated parmesan and a good knob of butter and stir them in gently so as to amalgamate with and thicken the remaining starchy liquid without breaking up the rice grains. Serve for an evocation of spring.
*To double peel broad beans: remove the broad beans from their pods and blanch in boiling water with a pinch of salt for 1 minute. The skins will loosen in this time and young broad beans should not need more than a minute to become tender. Drain and run under cold water to cool them down and then using your thumb nail pinch an edge to pierce the outer skin and gently push out the tender little green gems without crushing them. This is relaxing work for some people and also a great job for little fingers, so enlist the kids.