spring risotto

Not to pour salt in the wounds of those who live in parts of the world that are not full of sunshine and Spring, but the weather in the Bay Area has been extra sparkly and glorious the past two weekends. And great activities have resulted, including a handful of day trips to the North Bay and a fruitful morning at the farmers market.

I was just telling a friend at work that I had not been up to wine country in FOREVER. And within a matter of days I got a call from Adrian and Dan asking if I wanted to join them for a day of antiquing and lunch at Bouchon. Twist my arm! Needless to say, it was a perfect day. While doing a little shopping on our way to Yountville, I fell halfway in love with an old table I spotted at Artifact Design Salvage. After a few days of obsessing and measuring and obsessing, I decided I had to have the table. So I went back to Sonoma the following weekend, only to discover that TomatoMania! was in full effect, which was the best surprise ever, especially since I’ve got all my little baby seeds sprouting right now. I happily brought home a Genovese seedling and two ginormous peat pots, along with the table, aka my new office.

I headed up North once again this past Saturday to do a little scouting for an event I’m helping plan this summer. This particular area, between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, is the land of farm-grown, homemade, antique stores galore. There were a whole lot of “cute” and “quaint” sightings that afternoon, which left me completely smitten. One day I’ll convince myself to give up city life and grow old in the country. In the meantime, I’ll settle for a weekend home or even a friend out thataway.

Before making my way up to the land of cute and quaint on Saturday, I had to stop by the farmers market. Let me just say, for the record, that everyone (and their dogs and their babies) was at the farmers market that morning. And understandably so. Who could resist all of the springtime bounty that overfloweth in these parts? Certainly not I. Somehow, I managed to get in and out of there in a record twenty-five minutes, bags filled with the goods: three pints of strawberries, green garlic, kale, three pounds of fava beans, a few pounds of English peas and a custard currant danish for the road.

The peas and favas made their way into the Spring Risotto that I had bookmarked in the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. As I mentioned a few months ago, I love this book, and couldn’t help but go back to it. I made a few small changes, like substituting asparagus for corn kernels and adding a little lemon juice and zest to give it a bit of a brighter flavor, but ultimately loved the combination of the creamy risotto and the fresh produce. Oh Spring, how I’ve missed you!

spring risotto

adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

serves 4

kosher salt

1-1/4 cups shelled English peas

1-1/4 cup s shelled fava beans

1 cup asparagus, spears trimmed and cut into thirds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

3-1/2 cups chicken stock, warmed

2 whole scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 ounces Parmesan, grated ( about 1/4 cup), plus extra for serving

1 lemon, zest grated and juiced

2 cups rich beef broth

rich beef broth

1 quart beef broth

1/2 onion

1/2 carrot

1/2 celery stalk

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 garlic clove

1 bay leaf

1 flat leaf parsley stem

kosher salt and black pepper

prepare the beef broth:

Combine all the ingredients except the salt and pepper in  a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 40 minutes.

Strain, put the liquid back into the saucepan, and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper.

for the risotto:

Fill a medium bowl halfway with water and ice cubes. Set it aside.

In a small saucepan, warm the chicken stock and keep on low heat until ready to use.

Bring a quart of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon salt , and blanch the peas in the boiling water until they’re bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately strain out the peas (reserving the hot water for the other vegetables) and place them in the ice water. Let them cool for 2 minutes. Reserve the peas and repeat the same process with the fava beans (3 minutes in the boiling water) and the asparagus (3 minutes in the boiling water).  Place in ice water. Remove the favas from water after 3 minutes and remove the skins. Place skinned beans in a bowl and set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and add the onions. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, and sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice, and stir to coat with the butter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to “sear” the grain – this step will ensure that the risotto will have a bite to it. Deglaze the pan with the wine, and simmer until it has evaporated. Add the warm chicken stock, one 1/2 cup at a time. Stir continuously until the rice has absorbed the liquid, then add more stock. Continue this process for about 15 minutes, until 3 cups of the stock have been added and the risotto is tender. If necessary, continue cooking, adding the remaining chicken stock if the risotto starts to dry out. The risotto is ready when it’s al dente, with a thick and creamy consistency.

Stir in the blanched peas, fava beans, and asparagus, along with the scallions, Parmesan, remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, lemon juice and zest. Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Place the risotto in individual bowls, ladle the beef broth around it, top with additional Parmesan, and serve.

Evidence from the land of quaint, cute and antique stores galore: a French wire ferris wheel egg server from the late 1800’s. Now at the very top of my list of “things I really, really want but absolutely do not need”. Out of control whimsy… je t’aime!

grapefruit pudding

I live in a part of California that is blessed with extremely mild weather almost year round. So all of this rain that’s been coming down the last two months is giving me a bit of cabin fever. Instead of focusing on all the things I can do indoors, such as cooking or baking or blogging, I’ve been daydreaming about beach days and picnics and coastal drives.  I’ve been pining for Big Sur.

Big Sur is one of those places that just nestles itself into your heart. There’s something magical about being surrounded by all of that ocean and all of those trees. While I have the good fortune of living less than three hours north of Big Sur, I am now realizing that my last visit there was back in 2003. I was recently reminded of my love for Big Sur when I caught a documentary on PBS about the artist Emile Norman, who made Big Sur his home back in the 1940’s and remained there until his death in 2009.

I’ve more recently fallen in love the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook that has made its way into my hands. It is yet another reason for me to get myself back to Big Sur. The book is really an homage to the town of Big Sur and all of the artisans who have made it their home and is filled with beautiful photos and mouthwatering recipes. I love the layout of the cookbook; each chapter is designated a month of the year and lists the featured dishes like a restaurant menu. And what a coincidence it is that I was compelled to make the grapefruit pudding that is the dessert for February.

This grapefruit pudding is not your mother’s pudding. It is surprisingly light thanks to the egg whites and has that refreshing citrus quality. If custard and souffle had a baby, it would be this pudding. The top is airy and cake-like and the bottom is similar to a lemon curd. I like to think of it as having the best of two worlds in one lovely confection.

grapefruit pudding

adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

serves 6-8

Nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil

1/2 cup fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice, strained (about 1 or 2 grapefruits)

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup whole-milk yogurt

1/2 cup crème fraîche

grated zest of 2 grapefruits (finely chop zest if using a microplane)

4 eggs, separated

powdered sugar, for dusting

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350°F. Coat a 10-inch round baking dish lightly with non-stick spray or vegetable oil. Set aside.

Combine the sugar flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, whisk together grapefruit juice, yogurt, crème fraîche, zest, and the egg yolks. Pour the grapefruit mixture into the well and whisk to combine.

In an electric mixer fitted with the wire whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the grapefruit mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the pudding is set but still jiggles in the center, rotating once halfway through. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

Greetings from Big Sur circa 2003.