Monday, April 15, 2013

Pesto Change-O

This post has been a long time coming-- meaning that it's food I cooked quite some time ago but procrastinated on writing about, because life is what happens when you're busy jamming giant cookie wedges into your mouth with your friends, readying for finals, getting spring air for the first time in long time, and oh yes, not blogging.

This, however, is what happens when you get my friend & fellow foodie, Jon and I in a kitchen together. Jon is as passionate about "food culture" as I am, so when I heard that he'd only had risotto once and that it had been BAD risotto, I was scandalized. Shocked. Appalled. Other synonyms for mortified. I knew I had to fix it as soon as possible. So two Fridays ago, we made a culinary tag team and cooked dinner for he, Rebekah and I.

We ended up with a delicious meal: Honey Balsamic Oven Baked Chicken with Fresh Mint, (Homemade) Pesto Risotto, and a baguette with Champfleury cheese. If you aren't drooling all over your keyboard right now I suggest you read that again-- maybe in Morgan Freeman's voice, or else, get your head checked. You should totally click on the link above and check out the chicken recipe on Jon's blog. It was beyond belief tender and tasty. As. Hell.

So while we drank wine and talked about the dishes we inherited from our grandmothers, I took to making this recipe up from scratch. The best thing about risotto is that once you overcome your fear and master the basics, you can improvise it and make it with almost whatever you want. I made this based on what Jon had kicking around in his fridge and pantry. It was totally worth carrying a big jar of vegetable stock around with me in my knapsack at school that day. #FoodieProblems

Freestyle Pesto Risotto

Serves 4

4 cups vegetable stock
1 white cooking onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup pearled barley*
Basil Pesto, to taste
Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper

1. On the stove, get a small saucepan, size enough to hold all of the stock, and put it over low heat. First rule of risotto: do not add cold liquid to the risotto. You may have to put your wine in the microwave to ensure this but-- I am Jack's lack of shame. Cold liquid will "shock" the rice and you will not be able to get that famous, creamy texture you want. So, the second rule of risotto is do NOT add cold liquid to the risotto.

In a medium-large saucepan, add the oil, onions and garlic. Sautée until slightly browned.

2. When the onions are soft, add the barley and the rice. Stir until coated, and cook until slightly translucent, about one minute.

3. Now you can start adding liquids! This is the longest, most time consuming part of cooking risotto: you're going to have to babysit it for a good 30 minutes, stirring it constantly to coax the rice into a good mood. I kickstart rice into a good mood the way I myself get into a good mood: add that (warmed) white wine. Stir until it's absorbed, then add the stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly.

4. Add more stock as the rice absorbs each cup. Third rule of risotto: stir stir stir. In the meantime, open that jar of pesto. Or better yet, have your kitchen bro make it fresh for you while you're working. (Check out Jon's recipe for fresh pesto here!)

5. When you're almost fresh out of stock (the last cup or so) add the pesto and grated parm! As much or as little as you like. I would say I probably made use of a good 1/4-1/2 cup, but it's hard to be sure. Start with a little, then add more if you want it. Stir it in, to let it combine with the other flavours. Taste, season with salt, pepper and more parm if you want. (Let us face it: of COURSE you want more.) 
Risotto works as a main or a side dish really nicely. This one might not be pretty, but it was unbelievably good.

* It's possible to use an entire cup of arborio rice for this recipe instead of half arborio, half barley. I just like the variance in texture, so I mix it up a little. It adds a bite that isn't present otherwise. I know this because Tyler knows this. 

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