Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

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Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

In Chicago, you cannot be outside and not see winter. Not in the densely gray sky; not in the salt-bleached asphalt; not in the naked trees, with snow climbing high up their trunks; and especially not in the ground, exhibiting at any point a full mountain range of snow piles, exhaust-stained at its base and crisply white at its peaks. Winter is truly everywhere, save a few perfectly positioned glances out the window at sunset. So maybe this makes me a Chicagoan now, but I am utterly delighted at the idea of snow falling thickly on my south-eastern friends and family, while I optimistically drive on clear paved roads on a (remarkably) sunny day that nearly breaks freezing. We’ve suffered enough winter this year, and I’ll take any wins I can. Even if it’s just “oh, thank God it didn’t snow today!” I’m a little jealous that for other parts of the country (that I so recently called home), snow is an exciting rarity that requires immediate rest and relaxation. I wish snow meant hot chocolate and blankets instead of freezing, slow commutes. But there’s promise of a genuine heat wave- temperatures sky-rocketing to the 40s- so maybe it’s time to celebrate Spring, just a little bit, just to see how it feels. This dinner is nice in that it incorporates the fresh components of Spring flavors- lemon, peas, thyme- but requires ingredients that are pantry staples or easy freezer grabs. It’s a healthy variation on an Italian favorite, and a nice mix up from rice or pasta. The barley creates this “risotto” through the slow cooking process, yielding starches to the surrounding broth with time. It’s utterly creamy as a result, and while I’ve had “real” risotto only once or twice, barley risotto is a pretty fair comparison.

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Lemon Barley Risotto with Peas

Serves 3-4

1 tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup pearled barley

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 cups water

1 tbsp. thyme, fresh or dried

2 cups peas, frozen

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, (freshly) grated

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, mix vegetable or chicken stock and water and heat until boiling. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, with a ladle ready for use.

In a pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add barley and toast, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Once the barley is fragrant and lightly browning, add thyme and bit of salt. Next, add about 1 cup of stock/water to the barley and stir. Cook  the barley until it’s absorbed most of the liquid; then, add another cup of stock/water. Repeat this process, adding about 1-1/2 cups of liquid at a time, stirring regularly, until the barley is tender and the liquids are almost entirely absorbed. This process can take anywhere from 25-45 minutes, depending on the barley.

Just before the barley is finished, with a bit of liquid remaining, add the frozen peas. Cook the peas in the barley for 2-3 minutes, until bright and softened. Remove the barley from the heat and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, zest of 1 lemon, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Stir together and season additionally if necessary.

Serve the barley risotto plain, with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Or, serve along side some lemon grilled chicken or your other favorite protein of the day.

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I went with some meat this time. It’s been awhile. (Also, I know you like this chicken, Brian).