Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish cooked with broth and flavored with parmigiano cheese, often including vegetables or seafood. The name literally means “little rice” and it is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. It is fairly easy to make, minus the extreme concentration and labor intensive 30 straight minutes of stirring (I just keep switching hands and think of it as an arm workout). The outcome is well worth it.
Risotto is typically made with Arborio rice, a white simple carbohydrate. I prefer to prepare a healthier version using the whole grain, Faro. Since Faro has a rich and nutty flavor and hearty texture I can go butter-free and light on the cheese without losing the decadence of traditional risotto. I added asparagus, snap peas and Meyer lemons (all currently in season); the combination of these flavors in conjunction with the earthy grain gives the dish a substantial, yet delicate and refreshing balance.
If you are not familiar with Meyer lemons (which are my current obsession), they are a cross between a conventional lemon and a mandarin orange. They have the tang of a lemon, but not the pucker. Their color is amped up, a wonderful shade of bright yellow, and the peel is thinned down and sweet. They are often used in desserts, but also make a great accompaniment to fishes, poultry, salad dressings and well, risotto.
* Serve risotto with an arugula salad in a citrus or red wine vinaigrette for the perfect lunch or dinner.
Faro Risotto with Asparagus, Snap Peas and Meyer Lemon
- 1 1/2 cups Faro
- 5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- ½ lb. asparagus
- ½ lb. sugar snap peas
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 small shallots, diced
- 2 Meyer lemons, zested and juiced
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano
- 8 mint leaves, optional
- Ground black pepper, to taste
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and chop on the diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces (thinner asparagus is preferable). Cut the snap peas in half on the diagonal. Blanch the asparagus and peas. The most convenient way to blanch vegetables is in a medium pot of boiling water. Bring the water to boil and lower vegetables into the water, allowing the water to continue boiling. Cover for 3 minutes. As soon as blanching is complete, cool the vegetables quickly and thoroughly to stop the cooking process. To cool, drain the vegetables in a strainer, then submerge the vegetables into a container of ice water. Cool for 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly and place on paper towels to dry. By blanching the vegetables you will retain all of the crispness and beautiful bright green color.
In the empty blanching pot, bring your vegetable broth to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a broad-bottomed sauté pan or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft. Add the faro and stir to coat well, continue to stir until faro becomes slightly aromatic and toasted. One ladle-full at a time, add the broth to the rice and stir constantly until completely absorbed before adding more broth. Continue this process until the rice is soft and risotto creamy, about 35 minutes. Mix in the peas and asparagus within the last minute of cooking. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in cheese, black pepper, lemon zest and juice. Garnish with more zest, a sprinkle of cheese and mint leaves if you’d like. The risotto will continue to thicken, so serve immediately.