Finding Balance – also Asparagus Risotto with Lemon

At lunch today, Shana and I were talking about our respective cooking slumps and how hard it is for us both to find balance between work, home life, and other interests – and it occurred to me that maybe part of this slump is just my life shifting into a new balance, or back into balance period.  For the last year and a half, I’ve been totally engaged in cooking, food, gardening, etc, and part of that has been because I’ve had little else to strongly draw my focus.  These days I’m busy to the point of exhaustion between teaching and work, and I’m managing to exercise almost every day – so something’s got to give.

Shane picked me up at 5 – an hour later than I’m normally at work – and while he worked out, I made asparagus risotto from Urban Italian.  Instead of shredding, I stirred for 30 minutes.  And then ate risotto that tasted like sunshine and springtime.  And then did my best to stay awake.  I consider it a successful evening, even if I don’t manage to do anything else.

Asparagus Risotto with Lemon
Adapted from Urban Italian

5 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 pound asparagus
1 generous handful fresh basil
1 generous handful parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided (1 + 2)
1/2 large Vidalia onion (about 1 cup), diced small
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup vermouth
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Warm the broth in a saucepan over medium heat. In another saucepan, bring several cups of generously salted water to boil. While the liquids are heating up, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the bottom inch, and add to the broth. Cut off the asparagus tips about 3″ from the top and set aside. Reserve the middle portion of the stem.

When the broth nears a simmer, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for about a minute, then add the rice and stir so that all the grains are coated in the oil and butter. Add the vermouth, mixing well and stirring frequently until the boozey smell has evaporated. Add the broth one cup at a time, setting aside the asparagus ends, stirring the rice frequently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender but not mushy, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water while keeping an eye on the pot of salted water. When it boils, add the asparagus tips and blanch for 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the ice water to stop cooking. Add the reserved asparagus stems and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain. Add the stalks, asparagus ends, basil, and parsley to your blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a puree.

When the rice is finished cooking, stir in the asparagus puree, asparagus tips, remaining butter, lemon juice, and Parmigiano if using. The recipe as presented should make 3 entree-sized portions or 4-5 if served with a salad and a protein. We ate it right up with a fresh baguette.


0217 Pan-to-Oven Pork Chops and Amazing Broccoli Rabe

Pan-to-Oven Pork Chops + Broccoli Rabe with Goat Cheese, Onions, and Pine Nuts

I’m fixating on broccoli rabe these days.  I don’t know why – other than that it is delicious and lends itself to nice friendships with garlic, goat cheese, and savory soft onions.  This recipe came from Urban Italian, which has moved to the top of my wishlist after producing two show-stopping dishes.  This rabe was blanched, then sauteed together with garlic, a Vidalia onion, and sun-dried tomatoes, then topped with toasted pine nuts and soft goat cheese right before serving.  Each bite was savory and sweet, with a really lovely mouthfeel.  I can’t wait to make this again, though maybe I won’t sweat making a fancy protein to go along with it since really, we just wanted the rabe.

On the side, then, we had pork chops prepared using a technique from The River Cottage Meat Book – the chops were seared a bit on the stove, then roasted in the oven with a head of garlic.  Our oven runs hot and the chops were on the thin side, so they made it to the table a little dry and tough – which made me doubly glad that we had a savory and amazing bit of veg to compensate.  Better luck next time!

Pan to Oven Baked Pork Chops from The River Cottage Meat Book
Broccoli Rabe with Goat Cheese, Onions & Pine Nuts from Urban Italian

0208 Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs

Recently I requested Mario Batali Simple Italian Food from the public library – and the thoughtful catalog suggested I might also be interested in Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian.  Sure, why not?  Carmellini, like Batali, preaches the gospel of stripped-down, unfussy Italian cooking – delicious, rustic stuff that make take all day, or might be thrown together in half an hour.  The book is peppered with personal anecdotes, funny in-phrases from his restaurant, and suggestions about how to make the process of making his recipes even easier.  It was in this spirit that I decided to tackle scallops for the first time ever.

0208 Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs

At first blush, the recipe for Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs couldn’t be much easier.  Pat the scallops dry, then dust them with a mixture of herbs and flour.  Cook them quickly with a bit of oil, then set aside.  Done and done.  It was the sauce that was a bit fancy – the Cara Cara orange had to be peeled, segmented, and supremed (which, it turns out, is easier to do prior to the peeling and segmenting), which I’d never done before and which I’m glad I noticed in the directions BEFORE I started cooking.  See, I’m learning!  After removing the scallops, the pan is deglazed with orange juice, which is reduced until thin.  Whisk in a bit of butter, add the supremed oranges, and toss the whole lot with the scallops just before serving.  I made a quick bag of edamame, which provided a nice and salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce.  We both really liked the scallops, though Shane would’ve preferred a different sauce.  Next time!  This time, however, I felt pretty bad-ass for producing a totally new dish, a side (albeit a pre-fab one), and a sauce in about half an hour on a weeknight.

Bay Scallops with Citrus and Dried Herbs from Urban Italian