Is it just me or is everyone a little rough around the edges these days? Maybe it’s because we’re at the tail-end of winter and everyone’s just fed up – it’s been grey and wet and for the better part of the week, the snow has been covered in that pre-spring lacquer of muck typical of a winter hanging on for dear life. It’s a soul-sucking time of year and I’m convinced that we’re all taking it out on each other. It’s been a week of being elbowed on the sidewalk and being cut in line; a week of innumerable public transit failures and a record-breaking number of newspaper-to-the-face moments, courtesy of fellow subway commuters. In the last few days, I’ve been sneezed on and shoved, and unintentionally groped on the bus (usually by elderly women and children, whose balance on moving vehicles is so-so). Last night while in bed, I had the pleasure of listening to an upstairs neighbour’s wrathful phone rant. Nothing like the sound of a stranger’s rising blood-pressure to help lull you to sleep.
The fact that we’re halfway to an expected 20cm of snow will undoubtedly increase everyone’s murderous tendencies, which is why I’m taking cover – at home, with pleasant things to keep me occupied.
Which brings me to…
It’s one of those perfect dishes that can smooth over any prickly week. The technique is simple, it just requires a little time and a little love.
And who knows – maybe the repetitive stirring will help you achieve that perfect catatonic state you’ve so desperately needed.
Asparagus Risotto with Lemon (serves 4)
- 1 litre chicken stock (home-made is always better)
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 small leek, finely chopped
- 1/2 pack of asparagus, chopped – stalks and tips separated
- 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano (+ a bit for serving)
- 1 wine glass of dry vermouth (or white wine)
- 2 knobs of butter
- 1tbsp olive oil
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- sea salt to taste
Heat the stock in a saucepan. Heat one knob of butter and the oil in a separate saucepan on medium-high heat. Once the butter and oil get a bit frothy, add the leek and cook until softened (don’t let it brown). Stir in the chopped asparagus stalks. Add the rice and give it good stir with a wooden spoon, ensuring that each kernel gets a good coating of fat*. Toast the rice for about 1 minute and then add the vermouth. Don’t be alarmed by the fantastic sizzle that will come from the pan.
Cook briefly, just until the vermouth has cooked into the rice. Add a ladleful of hot stock** and a pinch of salt. Stir lovingly and turn down the heat to medium-low. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, waiting for each addition of stock to be absorbed into the rice before adding the next. About 12 minutes into cooking, add the asparagus tips (the “spear” part of the asparagus) and allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
At about the 15-minute mark, taste the rice to see if it is cooked. Like pasta, il should be al dente – not hard in the center, but not mushy either. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, don’t panic – just boil some water and add it a bit at a time like the stock.
Once the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the 2nd knob of butter. Taste again for salt. Grate lemon zest & parmigiano over risotto before serving.
*this step is what helps the rice stay firm and toothsome
**hot stock is key – cold stock will cool down your risotto for no good reason and will result in a hard, uncooked kernel.
Improvised baked salmon (serves 2-4 depending on the size of the filets)
- 2 salmon fillets
- 1 small shallot (échalotte), sliced
- a couple of sundried tomatoes (in oil), sliced
- a couple of lemon slices
- fresh tarragon
- olive oil
- sea salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place salmon skin-side down in a baking dish. Top with shallot, sundried tomatoes, tarragon, lemon slices, salt and pepper. Drizzle some olive oil on top. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, taking care not to overcook. The general rule of thumb is 8 minutes of cooking for each inch of thickness. Fatty fish like salmon is better when the outside is opaque but the center is still slightly translucent.