This was another one of those comfort food meals which I seem to just naturally gravitate towards, particularly during the winter months, when it's been kind of dull, wet and grey outside. Who doesn't want or need to sit down to a hot meal, prepared in love with some oh so tasty ingredients. Guilty as charged!
This dish had appeal to me because I am always on the lookout for meatless dishes that I can intersperse into our week's menus. Nothing against good quality grass fed meat, but I don't feel like eating it every night of the week. I like a little variety in our meals (ok, a lot actually) and given that I love vegetables, particularly green ones - kale, chard, broccoli, arugula - I am a sucker for meals like this one.
But of course, there are two of us in this household, and I have to think about my other half (most days, my better half :) My husband is proudly and authentically an 'Ausy/Aussy' (Austrian and Australian), whereas my roots originate in Italy and Scotland. Can you pronounce ‘Italiatish’? It makes for an interesting mix when it comes to food in our kitchen. If he had his choice, it would be meat and potatoes every night. Is it any wonder, since genetically, that is what is coursing through his Aussy veins? Research shows that we are wise to follow our roots in terms of eating foods that our grandparents ate, foods that were indigenous to our ancestry and that which our bodies recognize and digest easily. I try and honor that rule - and on the nights when I am going to make a meatless dish, I will forewarn him or I will just give him a bit of meat on the side. Generally, I think he is a pretty happy camper dining in our home.
Sorry, I am digressing here – back to my risotto recipe. Please stay with me on this one!
When the subject of risotto comes up there is an ongoing discussion about what constitutes 'cooked enough'. Al dente to him translates to crunchy and not cooked. Given his reference is based on soft mushy potatoes and sauerkraut, it does kind of make sense! But to the part of me that is southern Italian - the taste buds do take some offence to this. But hey, isn't that what relationships are all about - compromise even when it comes to one or two minutes more cooking time for a risotto kernel? And that is exactly what I did.
That is why when I came across this risotto dish I thought why not try it? Yes, it did seem somewhat irreverent to start the risotto on the stove and then put it in the oven for part of the time but I got over my feelings of betrayal to the risotto gods...quickly. It gave me more time to prep the rest of the ingredients. And, after all, you do finish it off on the stovetop, just like risotto was intended to be cooked.
This was tasty, I have to tell you. The pesto and kale mixed together was good. Some people (no names mentioned) can find the taste of kale a little bit bitter. Well this was not the case. Add into the equation, the parmesan cheese, toasted walnuts and mushrooms – hmm, mmm, good. You will see from the recipe that I cooked it longer in the oven than it was supposed to - for reasons stated above - and it was just as delicious. Serve this with a salad and it makes a tasty meal.
RECIPE: *Adapted from Epicurious
•1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped, divided
•4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
•1 medium onion, finely chopped
•1 cup arborio rice
•1-1/2 cups of washed sliced white or brown mushrooms
•2-3/4 cups of boiling water
•Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
•1/2 cup dry white wine
•1 small garlic clove
•3 tablespoons basil pesto
•2 cups chopped Tuscan kale leaves, divided
•2 tablespoons unsalted butter
•1 tablespoon lemon juice
•1/2 - 1 cup of Parmesan, finely grated
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Let cool before chopping coarsely.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, 5–8 minutes. Stir in rice; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until some grains are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups very hot water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and bake in oven until liquid is mostly absorbed but rice is still starchy in the center, 15-18 minutes (it should be undercooked). **Because we like our risotto softer, I cooked mine for 20-25 minutes and it was great.
While the rice is cooking, sautee the mushrooms in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil until tender. Set aside.
Next, pulse pesto and half of chopped kale, 1 tablespoon lemon juice; process until smooth. You may or may not need to add a little water to this to pulse it. I was using my homemade pesto which was pretty soft to start so it didn't need much added moisture.
Set saucepan over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup very hot water and add cooked rice out of oven, stirring constantly, until it is tender and sauce is creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in cooked mushrooms, pesto, butter, three-quarters of Parmesan, and remaining kale. Adjust consistency with water, if needed; season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with remaining walnuts and cheese. I only used 1/2 cup of parmesan and it was plenty cheesey enough. It is a personal taste thing (like everything) as the original recipe called for 2 cups which seemed like too much to me.
Anyways, bon appetite!