Tag Archive for spring

Spring Green Risotto

Last Saturday, I had drinks on a patio. Sunglasses were a necessity, as was a tall glass of something cold, and good conversation with friends.

All along 17th Avenue, patios were cracked open for the first warm weekend day in March. Tables were jammed with people laughing, drinking and turning their faces skyward to bask in the warm sun.

It’s as sure a sign of the changing seasons as the fact we had to put our clocks forward that night. (Though one is very much preferable to the other.)

It’s nearly spring.

But we’re not quite there yet.

After all, there are still patches of snow and, it being Calgary, we can be assured of one last blast of winter before spring truly arrives.

As I wait for those first green buds to appear, I find myself drawn to eating something that can at least remind me of spring. This Spring Green Risotto from the Barefoot Contessa is a good fit.

Spring Green Risotto I

The bright green of asparagus and peas, the bright flavour of lemon zest and juice are the tastes and sights of spring. The mascarpone (or, in my case, cream cheese as mascarpone was not to be found) brings a rich creaminess that’s a good last comfort-food hurrah as winter fades away.

Risotto is a bit fussier than other dishes because of the continual stirring, but I think it’s worth the effort. In my experience, you don’t have to be chained to the pot, constantly moving the grains of rice about. You just need to be nearby for frequent stirring.

(I’m sure someone is mentally scolding me right now for that statement, but if the thought of cooking a risotto has put you off because you believe it will be a major arm workout from stirring for 30 minutes non-stop, this is me suggesting you reconsider. No, you can’t walk away; yes, you can do light kitchen tidying at the same time. Or that’s what I did.)

The patience and frequent stirring is worth it. Especially with this recipe.

Spring Green Risotto III

Those little green peas popped with flavour, while the lemon juice made it bright and the cream cheese (see the recipe notes) added a smooth, creamy flavour without too much richness.

It’s enough to tide me over until spring finally does break through. Or at least until the next day warm enough for patio drinks.

Leeks and Arborio Rice

Spring Green Risotto II

Spring Green Risotto IV

Spring Green Risotto V

Spring Green Risotto

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. I omitted the 1 cup (250 mL) of chopped fennel, since I don’t like the flavour. Add it in with the leeks if you’re more of a fan. If you can’t find mascarpone (which I couldn’t – and didn’t want to go searching for in another store), spreadable cream cheese is a decent substitute. It’s less authentic, but was creamy and tangy enough. Using light cream cheese will also cut some of the calories.

  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (22 mL) unsalted butter
  • 3 cups (750 mL) chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (about 2 leeks)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) dry white wine
  • 4-5 cups (1 to 1.25 L) simmering chicken stock
  • 1 lb (500 g) asparagus, cut diagonally in 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) lengths
  • 10 oz (300 g) frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 3 tbsp (50 mL) minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender.

Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the leeks, oil and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring often, until most of the wine is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, a soup ladleful or two at a time, stirring often.

Most of the stock should be absorbed before adding another ladleful. This should take between 25 and 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the asparagus in boiling salted water for a few minutes, until just tender. Drain and cool in ice water.

When the risotto has been cooking for about 20 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons (10 mL) salt and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and mascarpone.

When the risotto is done, remove from the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture, plus the Parmesan and chives. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Sprinkle with chives and more Parmesan to serve.

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 as an appetizer.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For recipe ideas and stories about food, check out the Herald’s food page.

White Pizzas with Arugula

That’s slush outside right now. Melting snow and ice are forming rivulets that wend their way along curbs, searching out drains, forming murky puddles. Patches of grass left exposed are at last revealed, mats of brown carpeting the landscape.

It’s that shoulder season between winter’s end and the birth of spring when everything is dirt-covered, mottled from months of being hidden under cold and damp and snow.

So, until those pops of green start to stand out in relief against the landscape, until those buds burst out along tree branches and from the once-frozen ground, the next best thing, as far as I’m concerned, is to eat like spring is already here.

It’s time to shed the stews and soups of winter comfort and embrace herbs, baby lettuces, tender chard, pencil-thin stalks of asparagus and peppery arugula.

Well, in my kitchen at least.

Arugula

There was something about this recipe for White Pizzas with Arugula that caught my eye at one point as I flipped through the Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics cookbook ages ago.

I like a good traditional pizza. And some of you may remember a version I did last year topped with shaved asparagus.

But this one appealed because I like the idea of garlic and cheese matched with an arugula salad that had been tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. It was like a salad and main dish combined to make something even better.

Arugula, which is also known as rocket, has a nice pepper bite to it, owed, apparently, to being a relative to radishes and watercress.

The lemon would add a nice bright kick, but the melted cheeses – Fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese – would lay a decadent foundation on the pizzas.

Oh, and garlic-infused olive oil? Well, that would take the whole thing over the edge.

Garlic and oil

The only thing that could have stood in my way was attempting to knead dough (a task that remains my culinary nemesis for now), but Ina Garten’s recipe calls for pretty much the entire thing to be done in a stand mixer.

Sold.

The pizzas are simple to put together and came out of the oven crisp, the cheese just starting to change to a soft golden colour. Topped with the arugula, they’re a food metaphor for the changing season: bright green emerging from white.

And the taste was a marriage between the comfort food of winter and the emerging flavours of spring: the peppery arugula and acidic zing of lemon vinaigrette played well against the rich pizza with its creamy cheeses and garlicky oil.

Don’t be intimidated by the rather lengthy recipe; it’s all pretty straightforward. And the result is worth it. Because even if this isn’t the last we see of winter -and, judging from the last several years here, I suspect it’s not – I can at least taste spring.

Dough ball

White pizzas

Arugula II

White pizza with arugula

White Pizzas with Arugula

This recipe comes from The Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. To make all at six pizzas at once, you will need three parchment-lined sheet pans. But this recipe is easily halved if you want. She also calls for a few sprigs of thyme to steep in the olive oil with the garlic, but I didn’t have any on hand and I don’t think I missed out by not adding it.

I’ve found arugula at Lina’s Italian Market, at the farmer’s market and sometimes in clamshell-type packages at major grocery stores.

Pizza:

  • 1¼ cups (300 mL) warm water, 100?F to 110?F (38?C to 43?C)
  • 4½ tsp (22 mL) dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) honey
  • olive oil
  • 4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) crushed red pepper flakes
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups (750 mL) grated Italian Fontina
  • 1½ cups (475 mL) grated fresh mozzarella
  • 11 oz (300 g) creamy goat cheese

Salad:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 oz (250 g) baby arugula

For the dough, combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tbsp (50 mL) olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups (750 mL) flour, then 2 tsp (10 mL) salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup (250 mL) flour, or just enough to make a soft dough.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the garlic oil. Place ½ cup (125 mL) oil, the garlic and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Preheat the oven to 500F (260C). Dump the dough onto a board and divide into 6 equal pieces. Place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch (20cm) circle and place 2 circles on each parchment-lined sheet pan. (If you’ve chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.) Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with Fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese. Drizzle each pizza with 1 tbsp (15 mL) more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Meanwhile, for the vinaigrette, whisk together ½ cup (125 mL) oil, the lemon juice, 1 tsp (5 mL) salt, and ½ tsp (2 mL) pepper. When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and serve immediately.

Makes 6 pizzas.

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.
Bonus pizza: Homemade pesto topped with tomatoes.

Bonus pizza: Pesto with tomatoes

Bonus pizza: Pesto with tomatoes