Worth waiting for

In the days leading up to our departure from NYC, Mike and I were keeping a very close eye on Lucy’s Greenmarket Report to monitor the anticipated arrival of asparagus at Union Square. We were hoping we could get our hands on some before the move, and one recent day we mentioned our asparagus watch on Twitter. One friend was a little confused as to why we were making such a fuss – after all, asparagus is in supermarkets year-round, isn’t it? She’s right, of course, but as Mike replied to her with a smile, “we’re snobby locavores.”

Now, I don’t know about the “snobby” part (and I’d hope we’re not actually snobs), but the whole exchange really made me realize how much our way of eating has changed over the last couple of years. Buying supermarket asparagus doesn’t even occur to me anymore, even in the dead of winter when I’m desperate for it. It just tastes better in the springtime, when it’s in season and grown close to home, and I’m happy to wait for it and then indulge until I can’t bear looking at another fat green stalk.

Dinner:  April 28, 2008

Though we moved away before our favorite New York area farmers brought their asparagus to market, we scored a big bag of Rhode Island asparagus at the market at AS220 on Saturday. I pulled out the thickest ones for grilling Saturday evening, figuring I’d save the rest for a meatless Monday dinner. By Monday evening, the warm, sunny weather we enjoyed all weekend had turned to wind and rain, so something rich and creamy was in order.

I chopped up my remaining asparagus spears and some fresh chanterelles (sorry, not local), and sauteed them in a bit of butter. I seasoned them with fresh thyme and gently stirred them into a pot of my basic risotto, adding about half a cup of creme fraiche and some finely grated Pecorino Romano off the heat to finish the dish.

The mushrooms were a lovely foil for the crisp-tender asparagus, and the risotto was a wonderful carrier for both. As the weather warms up and asparagus season continues, I look forward to lighter and simpler preparations, but this was a fine way to renew my acquaintance with an old friend.

(Interesting reading on local asparagus here.)

Not-so Buco

Dinner:  March 18, 2008

Osso buco is a classic dish of slowly braised veal shank served with a sprightly gremolata and accompanied by fragrant risotto Milanese. It’s a wonderful combination of flavors, but while a traditional osso buco is a thing of beauty, it’s not exactly weeknight dinner material.

In my continuing quest to pare down the contents of our freezer and pantry before our move, I planned a quick and easy spin on that slow-cooking dish using the last of our suckled veal chops from Bobolink in place of veal shank. I mixed up the gremolata first, smashing and mincing two cloves of garlic and combining them with about a quarter cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley, the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a tiny pour of extra virgin olive oil. I set that aside and got to work on the risotto, sautéing about a quarter cup of chopped shallot in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft, toasting a cup and a half of Carnaroli rice, then adding the saffron (a good pinch – about 1/4 teaspoon), which I had lightly crushed between my fingers. I made a hot spot and let the saffron toast for a minute, then added half a cup of white vermouth and let it bubble away while I stirred the rice.

I finished the risotto in my usual way, using a mixture of veal stock and water for my remaining liquid, while Mike seared the chops in the cast iron skillet (about 3-5 minutes per side). I added another blob of butter and a generous amount of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano into the risotto off the heat when it was done, then spooned some onto our plates, topping each portion with the seared chops and a big dollop of gremolata. This was a great way to get the bold, bright flavors of the traditional dish with minimal time and effort.

Fall Fashioned

Dinner:  November 5, 2007

I know what you must be thinking: risotto again, Jen? Well, yes. You know I love the stuff, and I guess since the whole bacon & egg risotto thing reverberated around the internet, I’ve been a little risotto-obsessed. It’s such a wonderful carrier of flavors, and you can dress it up or down in a multitude of ways. I guess you could say it’s the food version of the little black dress, and I’m always eager to find new ways to accessorize.

Abby’s sweet potato risotto got me thinking about doing a version with roasted squash, and I can think of little that pairs better with roasted squash than fresh sage. I used leeks as the onion-y component of my basic risotto recipe, and added a cup of mashed roasted squash (the sign at the greenmarket said it was Calabaza) to the pan after I added the vermouth and before I began to add my chicken stock.

I fried a handful of large sage leaves in butter until they were crisp and added the sage-infused butter to the cooked risotto off the heat, just before finishing it with grated Parmagiano Reggiano and a splash of heavy cream. I grated a bit more cheese on top and crowned each serving with a couple of the crispy fried sage leaves. The resulting dish was like autumn in a bowl, the squash slightly sweet, the risotto creamy and comforting, and the fried sage providing a nice contrast in texture as well as a wonderful woodsy aroma and flavor.

Bacon and eggs, with a twist

Dinner:  October 23, 2007

It’s no secret that we are big fans of the pork products here at Chez Dietschyblossom, so when we saw Melissa’s absolutely mouthwatering photo of Derrick’s take on Craft’s bacon and egg risotto, there was no doubt in my mind I’d try my own spin soon.

I used pancetta instead of bacon because that was what we had on hand. I diced up six thick slices, rendered them down, set the crispy bits aside on a paper towel and used the fat (mixed with a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano butter) to saute my diced onion and to begin to cook the rice. I used 1/2 cup of white vermouth and some of our homemade chicken stock for the liquid components, and stirred in the cooked pancetta with the last addition of stock. I finished the risotto with a little bit of grated parm, a dollop of crème fraiche and a bit more butter, then spooned it into our bowls and topped each serving with a poached egg yolk and some chopped chives.

Though I over-poached the yolks just a bit, I will say that this was a pretty darned awesome dish – rich, creamy, and luxurious, with a nice bit of sweetness from the pancetta. Mike brought home a bottle of Schloss Koblenz Trittenheimer Altarchen Kabinett Riesling to drink with dinner, and while the it was a bit sweet for my taste on its own, it was a wonderful match with the risotto, the richness of the dish bringing out the bright citrusy notes in the wine.

Back to Basics

zucchini and lemons

When I first moved to the city, I landed in a pretty darn perfect situation. I spent my first six months here living with a friend in her gorgeous townhouse in Hunters Point, Long Island City. This place was equipped with the most amazing kitchen I have had the privilege of cooking in, and I put it to good use as I took advantage of all of the fresh, delicious foodstuffs the city has to offer.

As any of you who have moved to New York from elsewhere know, relocating here can take a big chunk out of your pocketbook, so my dinners then were often even simpler than they are now, and usually more veggie-centric. This zucchini and lemon risotto was a dish I made often, since my roommate and I always had a big bowl of lemons on hand, and a nice-sized zucchini would cost me a buck – if that – at the great little produce market just around the corner. Combined with fridge and pantry staples, it was a meal that was cheap, came together quickly, and was bursting with the bright, fresh flavors of summer.

Mike and I always have a big bowl of lemons on hand in our kitchen in Bushwick, and I still love to make zucchini and lemon risotto. The version I made last night was a little richer than the version from my Long Island City days thanks to a generous addition of soft, creamy Mettowee cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, but the flavors took me right back to those first giddy months of living here, the newness of it all, and the excitement of the possibilities that lay ahead.

Dinner:  July 16, 2007

Zucchini and Lemon Risotto

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 cup white vermouth
Juice and zest of two lemons
2 cups diced zucchini
4-6 cups water
Kosher salt
3 oz. soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Melt 1 tablespoon butter into olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook until the onion is softened. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the butter/olive oil mixture. Cook until the rice starts to become translucent, then add vermouth and stir. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add lemon juice and zest along with one cup of water and again allow to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Add the zucchini and season with salt. Continue adding the remaining water a cup or so at a time, allowing the liquid to cook into the risotto as described above. You may need more or less liquid than I have listed above, but what you want is for the risotto to be creamy and the texture of the grains of rice to be al dente. Taste often as the rice cooks so you can monitor the texture of the rice, and also adjust for salt.

Once the risotto is al dente, turn off the heat and gently stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the goat cheese until the risotto is creamy and the cheese is well-incorporated. Serve in shallow bowls with additional lemon zest on top.

Pea and Asparagus Risotto

in a pod

Some people find it tedious, but I think there’s something very relaxing about shelling peas. Sitting with a couple of bowls in front of me, paring knife in one hand to nip off the stems, pulling the strings down, then gently prying open the pod and working the little peas out – it’s meditative. We’ve generally got a bag or two of frozen peas in the freezer year-round, but in springtime, when sweet fresh peas hit the market, I can’t get enough of them and I look forward to the shelling.

DSC03712

I whipped up my basic risotto last night, stirring in about a cup and a half of fresh peas and an equal amount of chopped asparagus with the last addition of liquid. I also added the zest of a lemon, but the flavor didn’t pop like I wanted it to, so next time I do this dish (which should be soon – Mike has requested a do-over in a week or two), I will likely add some fresh lemon juice in addition to the zest. A generous grating of salty Pecorino Romano provided a nice counterpoint to the sweet peas and earthy asparagus.

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Risotto

Dinner:  May 7, 2007

As you may have noticed, risotto is one of my go-to dishes for weeknight dinners. It is so easy to prepare, and provides such a wonderful backdrop for a wide variety of flavors, that you really can’t go wrong with it.

When planning our meals for the week, I decided that I wanted to do a vegetable risotto enriched with goat cheese. I thought about doing an asparagus risotto – a spin on the version Mark Bittman wrote up in the Times last week – but the asparagus we have had recently has been so fresh and tender, I am hesitant to do much more to it than lightly steam or sauté it, or toss it with a little salt and olive oil and roast it. I decided instead to go with red peppers, roasted until sweet and smoky. Ideally, I would have done them over a hardwood fire on the grill, but it was late by the time I got home, and it was a bit too breezy and cool outside, so I decided instead to just roast the peppers in the oven.

roasted

It’s an easy enough process – just section 4 peppers into two or three big pieces, removing the seeds and cores, place them on a foil-lined sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. When the skins are blistered and charred, remove the peppers from the oven, place another sheet of foil on top of the sheet pan and seal up the edges. Allow them to sit in a cool place for 20 minutes or so, then peel off as much of the skin and charred bits as you wish (I like a bit of the skin left on mine; some people don’t, so really, it’s a matter of preference).

While the peppers cooled, I warmed up a quart of homemade chicken stock in a pan, and peeled and diced an onion. I melted two tablespoons of butter in two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and added the onions to the pan. I seasoned them with a bit of kosher salt and allowed the onions to soften.

I placed my roasted red peppers in a blender, added about a cup of the warm chicken stock, and pureed until smooth. I then poured the rest of the stock in, gave it another whir, and then poured the red pepper/stock mixture back into the pan so it would stay warm. I put about a cup of water in the blender carafe, swirled it around to get any red pepper puree that was clinging to the sides and added that to the red pepper/stock mixture as well.

carnaroli

I cooked the risotto as I usually do (using 1 1/2 cups of Carnaroli rice, 1/2 cup white vermouth, a splash of sherry vinegar, and the red pepper/stock mixture). With the last addition of liquid, I stirred in 4 oz. of soft fresh goat cheese in two batches, stirring well so the first batch melted and was incorporated before adding the second. I stirred through another tablespoon of butter off the heat, spooned the risotto into bowls, and topped each with a few shavings of aged goat cheese. I rounded out the meal with a salad of tender young spinach leaves Mike had picked up from Yuno’s at the Greenmarket.

tender leaves

This may have been one of the best risottos I have made – the flavors were extremely well balanced, with the sweet and smoky flavors of the red peppers and the tart and creamy flavors of the goat cheese all present. It’s definitely a keeper.

Ameztoi Txakolina 2006

Wine Pairing: After a (too) long absence, I returned to Vine Wine on my way home from work yesterday to pick up a bottle to go with our meal. I was happy to see wine guru Troy there when I walked in, and after chatting for a few minutes, I asked him for his recommendations. He chose two Spanish wines, one of which we had had before, and another one we hadn’t, which I ended up going with.

The 2006 Ameztoi Txakolina is a really unusual wine from the Basque region, very bright and citrusy, and lightly fizzy. It had a nice sort of mineraly quality that would likely make it delicious with any sort of shellfish, but it was absolutely killer with this risotto. It’s one to remember for future meals.