Front Burner #4: Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Smoked Ham

Risotto is one of those dishes that takes practice; you have to make it a few times before you feel like you have it down, but it is definitely a skill worth cultivating. It’s economical and oh so comforting; and if you’re a fan of leftovers, as I am, you can make a big pot of it and reheat it in the microwave throughout the rest of the week.

As I said, risotto does take practice. The first couple of times I made it, it took almost an hour (as opposed to the twenty-five minutes it was supposed to have taken)–and that was just the cooking part!  I realized that the problem the first time was that I had the heat up too high, which caused my broth mixture to evaporate before the rice could absorb the liquid, which meant that I had to keep adding broth constantly, and also meant that I had to use way more broth than the recipe called for. The next couple of times I made it, I over-compensated and had the heat too low, which made it take forever for the rice to absorb the liquid.

The key is to have the temperature just right. You want some bubbles, but you don’t want a pan full of rapid bubbles. If you have lots of bubbles, your heat is too high; if you have no bubbles, the heat is too low. So basically you’re just trying to keep the liquid surrounding the rice at a light simmer; once you manage that, you should be fine. And if you don’t get it perfect the first time, don’t give up! It really does take a few times (unless you are a natural, in which case, how exciting!), but once you get comfortable with it, it’s so wonderful to make. There are so many variations, and arborio rice is a grain that lends itself to fall, winter, spring and summer vegetables alike. So give it a try!

For a “light” recipe, this one is pretty decadent. I mean, c’mon–cream, butter, AND ham (not to mention Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)–how could it not be good? And it’s packed full of yummy spring veggies: asparagus, peas, fava beans. I will take this opportunity to say that the first time I made this, I did use fava beans. They are a lot of work (two shelling processes), and they were good; I found them to be sweet and fresh-tasting (I picked mine up at the farmer’s market, right from the farmer who grew them). But I must come clean: ever since then, I make this recipe with shelled edamame. The flavor is just as good, and I find the nuttiness of the edamame compliments the smoky richness of the ham. Plus, it is a million times faster to simply measure the edamames than it is to shell the favas, blanch them, then take the skins off…I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

I can’t think of what else I might have to add here.  The recipe (another one from Cooking Light) is pretty straightforward in terms of technique and ingredients.  So I’ll leave you to experimenting.  Bon appetit!

Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Ham

Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Ham

Risotto with Spring Vegetables and Smoked Ham

3/4 cup shelled fava beans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled)
2 cups water
2 cups (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 1/2 pound)
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 small)
1/2 cup finely chopped smoked ham (about 3 ounces)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup shelled green peas (about 1 pound unshelled)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook beans in boiling water 1 minute; drain. Plunge beans into ice water; drain. Remove tough outer skins from beans; discard skins. Set aside.

2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add asparagus to pan; cook 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove asparagus from pan with a slotted spoon; rinse under cold water. Set aside. Add broth to boiling water; reduce heat. Keep warm over low heat. Reserve 3/4 cup broth mixture; keep warm.

3. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ham to pan; cook 10 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in wine, and cook 2 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add the remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 25 minutes total).

4. Stir in peas, reserved beans, and reserved asparagus. Add reserved 3/4 cup broth mixture, stirring until liquid is absorbed (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup cheese, cream, butter, salt, and pepper. Place about 1 cup risotto into each of 6 shallow bowls; sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons remaining cheese.

Yield: 6 servings

CALORIES 439 (30% from fat); FAT 14.4g (sat 6.1g,mono 6g,poly 1.1g); IRON 3.3mg; CHOLESTEROL 30.5mg; CALCIUM 173mg; CARBOHYDRATE 59.4g; SODIUM 758mg; PROTEIN 19.7g; FIBER 9.8g

Cooking Light, APRIL 2008

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About Sarah

Grammar goddess, cultural critic, full-time media junkie. I read, I bake, I watch tv. And then I write about it.
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