Welcome to our new series on cooking without a recipe! We love recipes, we test them all the time in the Farm Kitchen and enjoy developing new ones. But we don’t always have time for recipes and you probably don’t either. Weeknights after school and work we go with what we know tastes good. The CSA Shares will be full of vegetables that will liven up your go to weeknight meals, and risotto is a great one to add to the mix. I know risotto sounds fancy, and only for restaurants but anyone with a stove can make easy and delicious risotto. Buy a box of arborio rice and keep some extra in the back of the cabinet. If you don’t have arborio try using pearled barley, spelt, or farro.
Do a quick inventory of the refrigerator and see what vegetables are kicking around. Find a wedge of hard cheese like parmesan, pecorino romano, extra sharp white cheddar, or gruyere. Or go with a soft cheese like goat, blue, feta, or brie. Check for fresh herbs, which are not necessary, but a little bit goes a long way. Some tried and true combinations:
- Grated butternut squash paired with sage and parmesan.
- Beet with goat cheese.
- Kale with lemon and parmesan.
- Pureed winter squash topped with blue cheese.
- Tomato with ricotta (both added at the end of cooking) topped with parsley.
- Broccoli with white cheddar.
- Basic risotto with parmesan and pesto stirred in at the end.
- Diced bell pepper and zucchini with pecorino romano.
- Leeks with gruyere.
Most vegetables need to be pre-cooked to soften and are then added at the end of cooking with the exception of tomatoes or very soft greens like arugula. Grate, dice, or chop your veggies and sauté in a pan with tall sides like a dutch oven. Remove from pan when softened and set aside. Using the same pan, start with aromatics like garlic, onion, or leeks for a base. Sauté in butter, olive oil, or a combination of both. Heat a pot of stock on the burner behind the one you’re using to cook the vegetables. Keep the stock at a simmer the whole time you’re cooking the risotto. For one cup of arborio rice (feeds about 4) heat 4 – 6 cups of stock. Bonus points if you have a homemade batch in the freezer, but anything will do. When the onions, garlic, or whatever you’re using are softened add your rice and stir until shiny then add a splash (or half a cup) of white wine, vermouth, sherry, or even beer. Stir until absorbed, then add the stock a half cup at a time. Wait until each half cup is absorbed before adding another. If you’re stock runs low add a little water. Stir often, but you don’t really have to stir the whole time. The rice will plump as it cooks. Taste it often, you’re looking for soft but not mushy.
When you think the rice is just about done, right before you add the last half cup of stock add your reserved cooked vegetables. Add the last splash of stock and stir until it’s absorbed. Remove from heat and add cheese (for soft cheeses add some to be mixed in with the rice and reserve some for sprinkling on top) and additional butter if desired. When butter and cheese are melted and combined, sprinkle with chopped herbs and serve risotto right away. Cold leftover risotto can be made into patties, dredged in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried for easy leftovers.