When you want something different from the traditional bread stuffing on Thanksgiving, wild rice stuffing is a great alternative. Wild rice has an earthy appeal that is so well suited for fall and winter meals. It is generously filled with complementary fall flavors with grains, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, and toasted nuts. To liven up these woodsy fall notes I added dried cranberries for a sweet and tangy zing and lots of fresh herbs. It is everything you expect in a stuffing recipe minus the bread.
I love wild rice and have always wanted to make wild rice stuffing, yet it has taken me all these years to finally do so. Tradition has a strong hold on what I make for our holiday meal. If it were only up to me, I would experiment and try new recipes every year. Yet, tradition overrules. Everyone has their favorite food that must be on the menu because Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without it. For my sons, that special holiday dish is pineapple stuffing, for me, it is all of the side dishes, but I particularly like my favorite stuffing recipe and pumpkin pie.
Wild Rice Stuffing
In the past, I sampled wild rice stuffing made with all wild rice and aromatics. As much as I like wild rice, I prefer it in a blend with long grain white or brown rice. The rice blend flavor is less overpowering and doesn’t compete with the other foods. Within this recipe layers of flavor builds from slowly caramelizing the onions then sautéing the mushrooms in the same pan. These flavors take time to develop, so be patient and cook the onions slowly until they turn golden and sweet. I promise it is worth it.
I adapted this recipe from an old Thanksgiving Menu article in Bon Appetite Magazine, Wild Rice Stuffing with Wild Mushrooms. My cookbook collection is filled with binders of old food magazine articles I read since the early 1990’s. At the time, any recipe for Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard to part with as I was dreaming of the day when it will be my turn to host a family holiday meal. I own binders full of recipes from old food magazines that still hold my interest 20 years later.
You have two choices for finishing the stuffing. One, stuff the turkey with the wild rice stuffing. Or, bake the stuffing in a baking dish. Both options have their advantages. If you stuff the turkey with wild rice stuffing, the stuffing absorbs the flavors of your turkey and gets very moist. The opposite happens, if you bake the stuffing. The stuffing stays moist, but the top gets crispy. The crunchy bits are Joe’s favorite part of the stuffing.
If you choose to stuff the turkey with wild rice stuffing, you must cook the stuffing until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) because it is cooked inside a raw turkey. Often, the turkey finishes cooking before the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. If that is the case, remove the stuffing and finish it in a baking dish covered with foil in a 350°F (176°C) oven, until it reaches the proper temperature.
Stuffing or Pilaf?
You can prepare this recipe with two options. First, prepare the wild rice stuffing as directed using the two-stage cooking process. However, if you want to make this for a regular dinner, as a side with a roast pork or chicken, serve the rice after it finishes cooking on the stove. The rice is plenty done plus it saves you 40 minutes if you skip the baking. For extra flavor toast the wild rice and white rice in butter and make this recipe as a pilaf.
Dietary Challenges Creating a Holiday Menu
When I make a holiday meal for my family, there are many types of diets I must take into consideration. Generally speaking, my meal needs to satisfy an omnivore diet, plus vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Sometimes dairy-free, low salt restrictions, and nut free restrictions need consideration. Satisfying everyone in the family requires some thoughtful planning.
Fortunately, wild rice stuffing is one of those side dishes that easily fits into all my dietary considerations. It is in the one size fits all category. First, it is gluten-free, so you can check consideration off your list. Second, cook the rice in vegetable stock and bake it in the oven for a plant-based meal. You get bonus points with your vegetarian and vegan friends because combining wild rice, white rice, and nuts create a meal with complementary proteins. Low or no salt store-bought stocks are good options, but homemade stock is even better for keeping salt intake down.
Fortunately, when I host a holiday meal, I do not have to make it all by myself. People enjoy contributing to a portion of the dinner. It makes them feel connected to the event and not burden the host with all the work and expense. Recruit as much help as you need and don’t be shy about it.
Wild Rice Stuffing with Mushrooms and Cranberries
Wild rice stuffing is a great alternative to bread stuffing. It has all the flavors you love in stuffing from the caramelized onions, sautéed wild mushrooms, and toasted walnuts with an added boost from dried cranberries and fresh herbs. This is a great gluten-free stuffing alternative that all will enjoy.
This recipe is slightly adapted from Bon Appetite Magazine, Wild Rice Stuffing with Wild Mushrooms, I believe dating back to 2000.
You can prepare the wild rice stuffing a day or two in advance kept covered in the refrigerator then bake in the oven when needed. This recipe is easily scaled up or down as needed.
- 4-5 onions around 2- 2 ½ lbs (1 kg
- 1 cup (3 oz / 87 g) walnuts
- 8 TB (113 g) butter, divided one stick
- 1 ¼ lb (575 g) assorted wild mushrooms like crimini and shiitake stemmed and sliced
- 3 TB chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tsp Kosher salt divided
- 2 TB (30 ml) Brandy or Dry Sherry optional
- 5 cups (750 ml) vegetable or chicken stock
- 3 tsp fresh sage minced
- 1 1/3 cup (226 g / 8 oz) wild rice
- 1 ¼ cup (245 g / 8.5 oz) long grain white rice
- 1 cup (123 g) dried cranberries
- 2 tsp fresh rosemary minced
- 6 -8 large sprigs of Italian Parsley
Peel and slice the onions in half lengthwise then thinly slice each half in half-moons. Set aside.
Heat a heavy-duty skillet over high heat, to just before smoking hot. Toast the walnuts in the hot skillet. Keep the walnuts moving and jumping around the skillet so they do not brown and burn. The walnuts are toasted when you get a nutty aroma and the skillet seems shinier from the oils released from the walnuts, about 2-3 minutes. Immediately turn off the heat and tip the walnuts onto a plate to cool. Set aside.
Melt 4 TB (56 g) butter in a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter stops sizzling, add the onions slices and turn down the heat to medium-low. Stir to coat the onions with butter and cook the onions until caramelized about 30 minutes or longer. It is important to caramelize the onions slowly otherwise they will burn. Stir the onions every now and then to make sure the onions do not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. The browner you let the onions get the more flavor they bring to the wild rice stuffing. Add in a pinch of Kosher salt.
Once the onions are caramelized, scrape them into a bowl and set aside. Place the pot or sauté pan back on the stove with the heat up to medium-high.
Melt the remaining 4 TB (56 g) butter then add the mushrooms, pinch of the Kosher salt, and 1 tsp minced thyme. Stir to coat the mushrooms with butter, then sauté until the mushrooms release their liquid and cooked all the way through. There are too many mushrooms in on pot for them to brown, but if you get some browning on the mushroom all the better as it adds flavor. Add the brandy or sherry (optional), and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add the mushrooms to the bowl with the onions.
Meanwhile, while the onions and mushrooms are cooking, heat up the stock with 2 tsp minced sage and 1 TB thyme and remaining Kosher salt in a large Dutch Oven with at least a 5 qt capacity to a boil. Add the wild rice and bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and turn down the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Mix in the white rice and cover. Simmer until the white rice is just getting tender and most of the liquid is absorbed about 15 minutes.
Stir in the caramelized onions, mushrooms, cranberries, walnuts with the remaining tablespoon of thyme, 1 tsp minced sage, and 1 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
Finish by stuffing the turkey with the wild rice stuffing or bake the stuffing in a 9 x 13 x 2-inch (23 x 33 x 5 cm) baking dish.
To bake stuffing in the turkey:
Chop 4 of the parsley sprigs and add to the wild rice stuffing. Stir to combine. Loosely fill the neck and main cavities of the turkey with the stuffing. Loosely sew the skin flap over the neck area to secure the rice in place. Truss the legs of the turkey together. Add the remaining stuffing to a buttered baking dish large enough to hold the leftovers. Cover with buttered foil and bake in the oven with the turkey, until heated through about 25 minutes. Uncover stuffing then bake until the top of the stuffing is slightly crisp.
Bake the stuffing in the turkey until the turkey is done, and remove the stuffing while the turkey rests. Immediately check the internal temperature of the stuffing. The stuffing is done when it reaches 165°F (74°C). If the internal temperature is lower than 165°F (74°C) remove the stuffing from the cavities and place in a baking dish and cover with foil. Continue to bake the stuffing until the temperature reaches 165°F (74°C)
Remove the stuffing from the cavities and spoon into a serving bowl. Mince the remaining parsley and sprinkle over the top. Keep warm until time to serve. Serve hot.
To bake stuffing in a baking dish:
Butter a 9 – 13- 2-inch baking dish. Add half of the minced parsley to the rice stuffing and stir to combine. Tip the rice stuffing into the baking dish then cover with a buttered piece of foil, butter side down. Bake in a 350°F (176°C) for 30 minutes or until heated through. Remove the foil and bake until it starts to crisp on top, another 20 minutes or so. You do not have to concern yourself with the internal temperature reaching 165°F (74°C) because it was not cooked inside a turkey. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle over the top. Serve hot.
I believe the wild rice stuffing is delicious and ready to serve just after cooking on the stove. If you do not want to go through the extra step of baking it, however, this extra step gives you a crispy top, feel free to do so. Wild rice with mushrooms and cranberries makes a great rice side dish. This is a hearty flavored rice meal and will work well with oven roasted or grilled meats, and fish like sea bass, tuna, salmon or swordfish.
You can substitute the long grain white rice with long grain brown rice. Cooking times will vary and take longer with brown rice.
Extra mushroom flavor
For extra wild mushroom flavor, add 1 tablespoon of porcini mushroom powder to the stock. You can also reconstitute some dried wild mushrooms like porcini or chanterelle mushrooms, then chop them up. Add them to the sautéed mushrooms.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Throughout the spring, summer and now fall whenever I ate broccoli, I roasted it. This cooking technique is my favorite way to eat broccoli, especially when I roast whole garlic cloves alongside the roasting broccoli. I love roasted broccoli and adding the garlic cloves just made it that much better. Why waste a perfectly good sheet pan and a hot oven by roasting only one vegetable when you can roast two? Both vegetables complement each other between the roasted char flavor in the broccoli and the sweet caramelized garlic. As far as I am concerned one can never have enough roasted broccoli or roasted garlic because they go with any meal and are very good for you. You can eat roast broccoli and garlic hot out of the oven as a side dish or use as add-ins for other meals, like pasta or farro.
Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
The longer you roast the broccoli the crispier it gets from searing on the sheet pan. That char adds a nice contrast to the soft texture of the vegetables adding deep flavor to the sweet broccoli. You can eat the garlic cloves by chopping them up and sprinkling them over the broccoli or leave them whole and smear the caramelized garlic over the broccoli spears or bite of roast chicken. Roasted garlic is pretty tasty all by itself too.
This is one of those recipes where you don’t really need a recipe just an idea of what you want to accomplish. Use this recipe as a guide. The only thing you can mess up on is adding too much salt or seriously overcooking, (or undercooking) the broccoli. Yet, keep in mind to use enough extra virgin olive oil so the broccoli does not stick to your pan or dry out.
If you wish, substitute the broccoli with any type of cruciferous vegetable, like cauliflower, romanesco, or Brussels sprouts (sliced in half lengthwise), or a combination of any of these vegetables. This roasted broccoli recipe is quite versatile and easily adapts to roasting all types of vegetables like carrots or asparagus.
The store where I bought my broccoli, removed the stem. Hopefully, you can buy broccoli with the stem still attached. Do not throw out the stem, go ahead and roast it along with the broccoli spears. Just cut off the tough end, how much will depend on how the broccoli was processed, about an inch (2.5 cm). Then, I recommend removing the tough outer layer of the skin with a vegetable peeler. Once done, slice on the diagonal across the stem into quarter-inch (.5 cm) pieces. Make sure you leave enough of the stem intact, so you can slice the head of broccoli into broccoli spears, not flowerettes.
If you have more roasted garlic cloves than you need, don’t throw them away. Use the cloves to make Garlic Bread. The roasted garlic mellows the garlic’s harshness making the best garlic bread around.
Oven Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
This is my go-to recipe for roasting vegetables especially broccoli or cauliflower. I love roasting whole cloves of garlic still in its' papery skin so it gets good and soft and sweet. You can either roast a whole head of garlic as described in the instructions or scatter as many garlic cloves still in its' skin but with the root end cut off. Either way, you get sweet roasted garlic and crispy browned broccoli.
The broccoli may get done before the head of garlic is soft. The easiest way to adjust for that is, remove the sheet pan from the oven and return the head of garlic wrapped in foil back in the oven and roast for 5 - 10 more minutes, or until the garlic is soft and squishy.
I sprinkled homemade bread crumbs on my roasted broccoli for the photographs and you can easily make them as well. Either use a cup of Panko breadcrumbs or make your own bread crumbs from two slices of bread. Rip each slice of bread into four pieces and process the bread slices in a food processor until the bread gets crumbly and the size of Panko breadcrumbs or a little larger. Add a tablespoon of butter to a skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the processed breadcrumbs to the melted butter and stir to get evenly coated with butter. Add around 1 -2 teaspoons of dried herbs of your choice and a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes or ground chili, then stir. Continue to stir the seasoned breadcrumbs until the breadcrumbs are brown and crunchy. Remove from the heat and pour them into a small bowl. Do not leave the breadcrumbs in the hot skillet because they will continue to cook and burn. Add a couple of tablespoons of Romano or Parmesan cheese and stir.
- 1 bunch (about 1 lb 6 oz / 700 g) broccoli one or two heads
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 1 head garlic or 8 -10 cloves still in its' papery skin root end sliced off
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C)
Trim the broccoli by cutting off the touch end of the stem, then cut the broccoli head into spears.
Toss the broccoli on a sheet pan large enough to hold the broccoli in one even layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the broccoli and sprinkle the Kosher salt with a few rounds of black pepper. Toss the broccoli with your hands until all the spears are coated with the olive oil.
Drizzle extra olive oil over the cut side of the garlic and rub the olive oil all over the cut edge and sides. Place the garlic cut side down on the sheet pan. Take a small piece of foil, large enough to wrap around the head of garlic, and surround the head of garlic with aluminum foil creating a tight-fitting tent.
Alternative method: If you are using whole cloves, leave the papery skin intact, but slice off the root end. Sprinkle about 8 garlic cloves around the broccoli and toss to coat with olive oil.
Place the broccoli and garlic in the oven and roast for twenty minutes. Check the broccoli and turn the spears over with a spatula. Roast for another 10 – 15 minutes.
Remove the foil from the garlic. When the garlic is cool enough to handle but still hot, turn the garlic upside down. Hold the head by the root end in one hand and with the other hand, run your fingers down the sides of the garlic to push out the garlic cloves. Let the garlic cloves fall on top of the broccoli.
Alternative method: When cool enough to handle, remove the papery skin from each clove by pushing them out with your fingers. Scatter the garlic cloves around the broccoli on a serving platter or plate.
Arrange on a serving plate or serve the broccoli directly from the sheet pan. Serve immediately while hot.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Guacamole is one of my all-time favorite foods, ever. I loved it since I was a child and have never stopped. My love affair with guacamole comes from an even greater appreciation for avocados. They are on my desert island list of food that I can’t live without. It is just so hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Avocados remind me of California and eating them is one way I stay connected to my home town.
For most of my lifetime, I have made guacamole and never look at it as a recipe, but something that is fluid and develops into a moment depending on place and time. There is a foundation to build on, but each time I add or omit an ingredient whenever I see fit. Over the years, my guacamole recipe is the one food that people always ask me, “What is my secret for making delicious guacamole?” My answer is not one they expect or want to hear but, I feel like I am stating the obvious. The secret to good guacamole is, making it with perfectly ripe avocados.
Ripe Avocados make the Best Guacamole
Ultimately, guacamole is only going to taste as good as the avocados you make it with. So, it pays to learn how to identify when they are ripe. It is rare to find them ripe at the market so, it is important to let your avocados ripen to that sweet spot at home. Too hard and the flesh will look pale in and taste bland. Too soft, and the avocado gets gray veins and has bruises on the flesh and tastes over ripe.
The sweet spot is when there is some firmness in the body, but also has some yield when you press on the north and south poles of the avocado. It is like Goldilocks, looking for the right chair to sit in. One that is not too hard, or not too soft. Just right. With experience it gets easier to identify that perfect state of ripeness and learn which store sells the best avocados.
Living in New York, avocados travel long distances to reach our markets and usually are as hard as a granite counter top. Typically, when I buy avocados I let them rest on my window sill for 2 days before I use them. On occasion, they need more time, sometimes less. First, remove them from any bag, even the mesh bag, but especially a plastic one. Then place them in an area where they will get some sun and air circulation. Never put avocado in the refrigerator unless they are cut open. Check them daily and handle them carefully so they do not bruise.
My kitchen windows do not get a lot of direct sunlight, and two to three days usually is enough time. If your kitchen streams with sunshine all day, your avocados may take less time. None of the tricks, like putting them in a paper bag to quickly ripen avocados, work. Time, warm air and sunlight are essential for ripening avocados.
How to Make Guacamole Without a Recipe
When your avocados are ripe, begin making guacamole with the foundation ingredients, avocados, garlic, lime juice, pinch of salt, and minced cilantro. As you make guacamole remember this rule, start with less and add more if needed. It is a lot easier to add seasoning then take away. My preference for guacamole is create a nice balance of all the ingredients to enhance the flavor of the avocados without any one flavor coming on too strong. There are other traditional ingredients in guacamole like white onion or chopped tomatoes, but I prefer a smoother guacamole. Plus, I am not a big fan of raw onions. Feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped white onions or tomatoes if you wish.
Once you get the foundation mixed together, taste and assess what the guacamole needs if anything. With perfect avocados it doesn’t take much to make good guacamole. Sometimes, the avocados lack some flavor and need some boosting. The easiest way to boost up the flavor is by adding a tablespoon of salsa, either tomato salsa or tomatillo salsa. Also, a small spoonful of mayonnaise helps make the guacamole creamy. Even a scant amount of Dijon mustard can offer the right amount of tang when the guacamole needs some acid to brighten it up. However, be careful not to add too much because you don’t want to taste the mustard or mayonnaise, these flavors should be in the background.
Extra Tidd-Bits for Boosting Guacamole Flavor
Just like adding a spoonful of salsa to your guacamole, you can achieve the same effect, if not better if you roast a tomatillo, jalapeño or serrano pepper, and garlic then add them to the guacamole. Personally, I love adding these roasted vegetables to guacamole, especially the garlic. The roasted garlic becomes sweet, and the harsh bite disappears. These roasted vegetables bring a slight tangy smokiness to the guacamole that just fits, like bacon and eggs.
A couple of years ago, I discovered how fresh fruit like strawberries is delicious with guacamole. Either serve strawberries on the side or chop some up and mix in the dip. You may need to add more salt and adjust the other seasoning, so taste and build the flavor as you go.
How Many Avocados?
3 avocados are a good place to start. It should make enough guacamole for 5-6 people. However, if your family is like my family it will disappear in less than 5 minutes and you will feel like you did not make enough. Avocados are expensive, at least in NY, so buy as many as is within reason. The most avocados I ever used to make guacamole are 6-7 avocados. It was for a decent size party of 15 or more people. However, if there are several appetizers in addition to the guacamole, there is no need to make so much.
Keep in mind, guacamole does not keep well. No matter how much lime juice is in the guacamole, eventually it turns gray from being exposed to the air. The oxidation also effects the flavor. Guacamole is a dip to serve right away and at room temperature.
Family Favorite Guacamole
The secret to delicious guacamole is using perfectly ripe avocados. Avocados are ripe when they are still firm but there is some give in the top and bottom of the fruit. I find it is best to buy avocados a couple of days in advance and let them ripen on a sunny windowsill.
This is a foundation recipe to build your guacamole as you make it. Adjust any amount of your preferred seasonings to enhance the flavor of your avocados.
This is not a recipe to make in advance. Guacamole is best served at room temperature and immediately after it is made. Serve with corn chips or some fruit like strawberries and vegetables such as jicama, carrots, cucumbers or bell peppers.
- 3 avocados
- 1 -2 cloves garlic peeled and green germ removed
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tea Kosher Salt
- 2 TBS chopped cilantro
- 1 roasted jalapeño chili optional
- 1 medium roasted tomatillo optional
Cut each avocado in half by holding the avocado in one hand and with the other hand make a slice with a 6-inch chef's knife though the top of the avocado towards the middle until you reach the pit inside. Rotate your knife around the perimeter of the avocado. Set down the knife and hold the avocado in both hands then twist the avocado halves in opposite directions until they separate. Pull apart the avocado halves.
Securely hold the avocado with the pit like it is resting in your palm and the pit is facing up. Make sure your fingers are away from the edge of the avocado. Carefully, but firmly, take your chef knife and hit the sharp edge of the blade in the center of the pit until the knife sticks. With the knife blade secure in the pit, twist your knife counter-clockwise to loosen the pit from the flesh. Lift your knife with the pit still attached and remove the pit from the flesh. Whack the side of your knife against the edge of your cutting board, or the rim of a garbage pail, to loosen the pit from the knife and falls off. Repeat until all the avocados are cut in half and pits removed.
Use a soup spoon and scoop out the avocado flesh. Run the spoon around the inside edge of the avocado to loosen it free from the skin. Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it into a mixing bowl. Repeat until all the avocados are scooped out.
Mash the avocados with a fork until all the flesh is mixed together but still chunky. Add lime juice from half a lime. Stir to mix with your fork.
Mince or press the garlic and place into the mixing bowl. Add a pinch (less than 1/2 a teaspoon), of Kosher salt. and the cilantro to the avocados. Stir to mix.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Too bland add more salt or garlic. Needs more acid add more lime juice or tomatillos or salsa. Start with less and add more if needed.
The roasted tomatillo, process in a food processor first then add it to the guacamole.
The chili peppers, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds and white pith according to how spicy you want the guacamole.
Instead of the roasted tomatillo or chilies, add a spoonful or salsa verde or tomato salsa.
For extra creaminess, add a spoonful of mayonnaise. For extra tang, add a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Sliced fresh grape tomatoes for garnish or in the dip.
Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Best eaten immediately with corn chips or cut up vegetables and fruit.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Often, people believe making risotto is a chore. But I find it is not much more work than making a pasta dinner with a vegetable sauce or with shellfish. It takes about the same time and you must pay attention to what you are cooking. Regardless of your perspective, risotto is a meal worth having in your dinner repertoire. This recipe is inspired by Spring, using seasonal produce with the bright zing of lemon and mint. Leek asparagus risotto with sugar snap peas is pure comfort food. It is a blend of rice made creamy from stock and stirring, with a bounty of spring vegetables separately cooked to retain their crisp bite and shape.
What is great about risotto, once you have the basic recipe down, the possibilities are endless. Anything goes. It is a great way to use up odds and end vegetables or leftover fish, chicken and cured pork. Any vegetable pairs nicely with the creamy rice. I like to add a lot of vegetables because I feel it is healthier for me. But many recipes include only just a cup of peas or no vegetables at all, like Risotto alla Milanese, which is the risotto that put risotto on the map. It is only made with the rice, stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and saffron.
When I make risotto, I have my music playing in the background or I have the pleasure of a friend sharing relaxed conversation with a glass of wine. It is also a time for meditation, especially if it has been one of those days and you need some quite time. Whatever the mood, you should never feel rushed or stressed when making risotto, you will just end up making mediocre risotto. This just can’t be rushed and defeats the purpose of making a comforting meal.
Variations for Leek Asparagus Risotto
If you want to give leek asparagus risotto an upgrade either for a fancy dinner or for a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops on top of the plated risotto. If you do not know how to sear sea scallops, click on this link for Dinner Salad with Sea Scallops and Greens for instructions. Brown some butter after searing the sea scallops and drizzle it over the scallops and leek asparagus risotto with a squeeze of lemon. It is a great dinner for a couple to make together. Each person has a job. One can stir the risotto, the other can keep you company and sear the scallops and brown the butter at the last minute.
The dinner salad is a great alternative to risotto when the weather gets hot and humid and you don’t want to stand over a hot stove.
Read more tips on making risotto here.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
A springtime risotto made with leeks, asparagus and sugar snap peas. For a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops.
When I use a store-bought stock, I like to enhance it by adding fresh vegetable trimmings and simmer for several minutes. This adds some time to your prep, but it does add more flavor to the stock. If you are pressed for time omit this step and save 15 minutes but remember to heat up the stock before adding it to the risotto.
I prepare the asparagus and sugar snap peas separately. This helps the vegetables retain their shape and color. I like the vegetables on the crisp side which is a nice contrast to the smooth and creamy rice.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
- 6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable or chicken stock homemade or low salt store bought stock
- 1 lb (414 g) asparagus
- 1 leeks cleaned and sliced
- 4 oz (119 g) sugar snap peas a heaping cup
- 4 TBS (57 g) butter divided
- 1½ cup (300 g) carnaroli or arborio rice
- ½ cup (150 ml) dry white wine
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt (more to taste)
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- finely grated zest from one lemon
- garnish with mint and parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preparing the stock and vegetables
Clean and remove the dark leaves off the leek. To clean leek, cut off the root end and slice down the middle of the leek lengthwise but not all the way through. Open the leek like a book and run it under cold running water. Peel back the layers looking for the hidden dirt and rinse off. The dirt likes to hide between the layers of the leek almost all the way through to the center. Dry off the leeks as best you can.
Trim off the dark green layers of the leek and reserve for the stock, then slice in half all the way through lengthwise. Slice the leek in half moon slices about a 1/8 inch (.5 cm) thick and set aside.
Pour the stock into a 3-quart sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Trim off the ends of the asparagus and add the ends to the stock. Add the cleaned dark green parts of your leek. Add a small handful of sugar snap peas to the stock.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Simmer the stock with the vegetables for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the vegetables with a spider or slotted spoon. Discard the vegetables. Return the stock to the burner set to low heat and keep warm.
Fill a sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, trim the asparagus into one-inch (2.5 cm) pieces cut on a diagonal. Start by trimming off the top tip just where it begins to get smooth, then work your way down the stalk.
Remove the string from the side of the sugar snap peas and trim each end if needed. Also, while the water is coming to a boil, make a water bath by adding cold water and ice cubes to a medium bowl.
Once the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt then add the trimmed asparagus. Quickly blanch for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the asparagus from the boiling water then add to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Keep the water on and boiling. When the asparagus is cooled remove them from the ice bath and dry on a clean lint free kitchen towel. Set aside. Add more ice to the ice bath for the sugar snap peas.
In the same pot of boiling water, quickly blanch the sugar snap peas for one minute. Remove the sugar snap peas from the boiling water and add to an ice bath. Once cool, drain and dry the sugar snap peas. Cut the sugar snap peas in quarter inch slices on a sharp diagonal. Set aside.
Making the risotto
In a Dutch oven or other 5-qt pot, add 2 TB of butter over medium heat. Once the butter stops sizzling add the leeks and cook until the leeks become translucent and tender, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carnaroli rice and stir to coat. Cook the rice until they become opaque about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir until the wine completely evaporates.
Add about a 1/2 cup (150 ml) of warm stock and stir the rice until it has absorbed the stock. Add the Kosher salt and continue to add warm stock in 1/2 cup (150 ml) intervals, stirring the rice and waiting until the stock is all absorbed until you add more. Continue adding stock and stirring until the risotto is al dente, about 20-30 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, taste the rice to gauge your progress. The rice should be tender but still firm. You might not use up all the stock.
Towards the end, add the asparagus and sliced sugar snap peas to warm up. Add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir to mix and melt the cheese.
Loosen up the risotto with some warm stock and stir if it needs it.
Spoon a serving into a shallow bowl or plate, and garnish with lemon zest, parsley and mint.
Serve immediately with more cheese and fresh black pepper.
Depending on how salty your stock is, will determine how much Kosher salt you need to add. I always use low salt or homemade stock, which gives me some flexibility for seasoning my food. Taste first and season with salt as needed.
For a really special treat, sear sea scallops separately and serve 3-5 scallops person. Arrange the sea scallops on top of the risotto in individual serving dishes. Brown some butter and drizzle over the sea scallops on the risotto. Garnish with herbs and lemon zest.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Now that it is officially spring, we can look forward to young spring asparagus. These odd looking green spears push through the thawed ground just in time to dissolve away the winter blues. The early spring asparagus spears are tender and often thin, needing little in the way of preparation and adornment. I found the simpler the better for these young spears. If you grow your own asparagus, then you know how sweet and fresh the first spears taste. My friend grows asparagus and eats the first spring spears raw because they are that delicious and tender.
I am not as fortunate as my friend, so I rely on the store and farmer’s market for my spring asparagus. From the farmers market they are slightly older than just picked, however at the grocery they are much older. When buying asparagus look for spears with tight tips and smooth skin. As they get older, the tips open and look like they are about to sprout. If you have the room, stand the asparagus spears, loosely packed and upright standing in a container with a shallow layer of water. If not, untie the bundle and let them rest loose in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Spring Asparagus
The best preparation is to cut off the woody end about 2 inches (5 cm) from the bottom. Though, how much actually depends on how old the asparagus was when harvested. I used to bend the asparagus in half and let the spears break where the woody core ended, and the fresh stalk began. Often, I felt there was a lot of waste using the bend and break technique, so I started cutting them and gauging for myself. If the asparagus spears are older, you may need to trim off a longer piece. You can feel with your fingertips where the tender part and the woody part meet.
As the season progresses, and with fatter asparagus spears, the stalks become fibrous making the outer skin stringy and hard to bite. I peel a thin layer, using a vegetable peeler, off the skin from the bottom to about an inch or two below the tip. You can peel the asparagus if you want a fancy dressed-up presentation as well. Early in the season, and with thin asparagus spears, you won’t need to peel the spears, only if you want to. Check out my recipe for Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise how to peel asparagus spears. You can also use the orange mayonnaise with this recipe as well.
Click on this link for nutritional benefits of asparagus.
How to Cook Asparagus
This stove top grilling method produces asparagus the whole family will enjoy. It never ceases to amaze me how this cooking technique turned our sons’ heads and hearts and they began eating their asparagus. Needless to say, we started cooking asparagus using our grill pan all the time after that. No complaints, no “Eat your vegetables,” conversations at the dinner table. Life was good. Before the grill pan method, I would quickly blanch asparagus, then season with butter or olive oil. It produces great asparagus, but it wasn’t everyone’s favorite.
To make stove top grilled asparagus, all you need is a grill pan or skillet, some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or sherry vinegar, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. My grill pan does not accommodate a full pound (466 g) of asparagus, so I cooked them in two batches. A larger 12-inch (30 cm) skillet might hold a pound (466 g). As the asparagus cooks in the pan, the heat gently chars the asparagus in spots creating extra flavor. You do not get the smokiness of the outdoor grill, but there is just enough sear for extra oomph.
More asparagus recipes
Early Spring Asparagus
Early spring asparagus is tender and sweet and does not need a lot of extra adornment for the flavor to shine. This is a simple preparation using a grill pan or skillet and nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper, with or without balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
Herbs like basil, tarragon, thyme, chives or arugula flowers taste delicious with asparagus. Fresh lemon or orange zest. You can also garnish with chopped walnuts and/or a diced hard-boiled egg.
- 1 lb (466 g) fresh asparagus
- 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of Kosher Salt less than half teaspoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar optional
Place a grill pan or heavy-duty skillet on the stove set to medium-high heat. Let the pan heat up. Place you hand about 6 inches (15 cm) above the pan. If the heat is starting to feel hot and uncomfortable then your pan is ready, about 4 minutes. It should not be smoking hot.
While waiting for the pan to heat up, Using a sharp knife, trim off the woody end of the spear, about 2 inches (5 cm). Place the spears in a bowl.
Drizzle the spears with extra virgin olive oil, and add pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to evenly coat.
Arrange the spears in one row across the grill pan or skillet. You won't fit the whole pound (466 g), but add as much as you can fit in a single layer. Allow the spears to cook undisturbed for a few minutes, then turn them over on the other side. Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes more and turn again. Keep cooking and turning until the asparagus spears are just tender when pierced with a fork but still has some bite.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle some balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar over the asparagus spears and turn over a few times to coat.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.