I’ve been on a bit of a risotto kick lately. It’s funny, because I usually associate the dish with cold winter months when I want to eat something warm and thick. But more and more recipes keep popping up on Pinterest and food blogs for a lighter, herb-filled version, and a few of them have recently caught my eye.
Last month, I made vegan lemon asparagus risotto for dinner with asparagus I bought at the market. A week ago, I tried one of the best risottos of my life at Teddy & The Bully Bar, a restaurant near my work that has a Teddy Roosevelt theme (I’m still not sure exactly what that entails, but nevertheless, their food is delicious).
Last night, I decided to make asparagus pesto risotto for dinner. The recipe comes from a food blog I recently discovered called “The Kitchn,” which features cooking tips and quick recipes that are easy to prepare at home. I tweaked the recipe a little to fit my own tastes (I substituted more basil for parsley in the pesto, and went easy on the Parmesan cheese), but otherwise I stayed true to the original concept.
The part of the dish that I enjoyed the most was the texture. The original recipe called for pearl barley, but as I had an overflowing supply of pearl couscous, I thought I’d make the swap. I highly recommend using the pearl couscous; it’s soft and chewy, cooks quickly, and pairs well with the cheese and herb pesto. I didn’t feel like my arm was falling off as I stirred in vegetable broth and wine, and the dish still had a creamy consistency.
I’m not sure which recipe–vegan or not–would come out the winner in a risotto battle royale, but in the end, both were satisfying. And if you find yourself in D.C. near 19th and L, stop by Teddy & The Bully Bar for an equally good version. Just don’t be alarmed by the fake taxidermy on the walls.
Asparagus Risotto Verde (adapted from The Kitchn)
1 bunch of asparagus
1/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 1/2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
Zest from 1 lemon
6 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to season
Additional grated cheese for garnish (optional)
Trim the bottom inch (or so) off the asparagus and discard. Slice off the tips of the spears and reserve. Cut the rest of the asparagus into big chunks.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus stalks. Cook for about 4 minutes, then scoop them into a strainer. Run under cold water and transfer to a blender. Add the basil leaves, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the broth. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside. Blanch the asparagus spears and peas (if using fresh peas) for no more than one minute. Transfer them to an ice water bath until the dish is finished.
In a large sauté pan or pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic slices and continue cooking for an additional two minutes, or until soft. Add the pearl couscous, and toast for about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine to the pan, and mix with a spoon until most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the wine has evaporated, add two ladles of the broth and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, season the mixture with a hefty pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep adding the broth one ladle at a time, letting the couscous absorb each addition of broth, until the couscous is completely cooked (a touch al dente) and chewy. This should take about 25 minutes.
Once the couscous is cooked, remove from the heat and fold in the grated cheese. Stir in the asparagus-herb puree, asparagus spears, and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until well combined. Serve immediately with extra grated parmesan cheese on top.