Ahhh, spring in Sacramento… a time of renewal, of tiny buds blooming on trees, and sweet blossoms creating magical wonderlands along streets & sidewalks everywhere.
That was back in January.
In April, which is when the Sacramento valley has decided that winter shall now be, we have cold fronts, rain, wind, and more rain. Yeah, yeah, April showers are supposed to bring May flowers and all that jazz, but if this year is anything like the last, we will have winter until about July.
Usually, I fight these gloomy days one of two ways: I make a lot of soup or I make ridiculously bright vegetable dishes. The former indulges the need for comfort food, while the latter injects bursts of sunshine into otherwise gray days. I’ve enjoyed plenty of soups recently (and have a lovely new one to share with you this weekend), and about a metric ton of my Raw Kale & Garbanzo Salad, but last night I wanted something different. Something comfort food-esque, but alight with pops of vibrant spring colors.
I finally decided on a risotto with some lovely spring veggies. The rich creaminess of risotto automatically places it in the comfort food category, and the bright, colorful veggies help bring a burst of sunshine into my tiny little kitchen. It was truly the best of both worlds.
Now, I have yet to make a risotto recipe that actually uses the arborio rice that is supposed to be in there. After getting over my irrational fear of preparing risotto, I’ve made several of my own variations using things like quinoa, farro, and now, brown rice. It’s not that I’m not a fan of white rice; I just tend to prefer heartier, nuttier grains with different textures.
The brown rice experiment proved to be a bit more time-consuming than my other risottos, but the results were well worth the time & effort. Instead of the delicate texture of my quinoa risottos, or the chewiness of the version using farro, this brown rice variation held that toothsome quality, while staying surprisingly creamy. As much as I adore my quinoa risottos (because there’s no need to find an extra protein source to make it a complete meal), I have to say this version is my new favorite.
If you can’t affordable fresh asparagus just yet, don’t worry; A) ‘Tis the season for this green gem of deliciousness, so they’ll be around soon enough, and B) you can use frozen spears instead. Just make sure to skip the blanching process, or else you’ll end up with extremely mushy asparagus.
Other than that, feel free to have fun with this one! If you’re at the store or farmer’s market and find other lovely spring vegetables to add to the mix, by all means, please do so! I just did this with what I had on hand. If you’re a meat eater, this makes a wonderful side to a nice seafood or chicken entree, but it also makes a wonderful meatless entree. Vegan? Just omit the cheese and you’re good to go.
Hope you like this one as much as I did! I’m all set to have another bowl of it for lunch, it’s so good!
Spring Vegetable & Meyer Lemon Brown Rice Risotto (makes 3-4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.85)
Be sure you have plenty of time to make this dish, as it’s a bit time-consuming and must not be rushed. Also, using short grain brown rice is preferable, but it can be hard to find in certain stores. If you can’t find it, simply use long grain. Just be sure to have about a cup or two of extra broth, just in case you need a little more moisture in there.
1/2 lb asparagus
3 quarts water
Pinch of salt
1 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 c finely chopped yellow onion
1 c uncooked brown rice
1/2 c white wine
6-7 c vegetable broth
1 large carrot, julienned
1 c sweet peas
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 T Meyer lemon juice
2 T Meyer lemon zest
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Prepare a large bowl with cold water and several cubes of ice, and set aside. Cut the asparagus into 1 1/2″ spears. Bring the water & salt to a rolling boil in a large pot or saucepan and gently add the chopped asparagus. Blanch for just about 45 – 60 seconds, until they just turn bright green. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the asparagus to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. When oil is hot, add the garlic & onions and cook until fragrant and translucent. Add the brown rice and cook until toasted, about 5 minutes or so. Next, add the wine and simmer until completely absorbed, stirring constantly.
3. Add about 1/2 cup of vegetable broth to the rice and cook until it’s been completely absorbed. (At this point, you may need to adjust the heat to make sure you maintain a nice simmer.) Repeat this process 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and making sure the broth has been completely absorbed before moving on.
4. After adding about 2 cups of broth, add the julienned carrots. Continue cooking, adding broth and stirring until all the broth has been used and the rice is tender and creamy. Add the cheese and mix well, then add the Meyer lemon juice and zest, followed by the peas and asparagus. Check for seasoning and adjust accordingly with a pinch or two of salt & pepper. Garnish with fresh scallions and a bit more lemon zest if you like. Serve as a side or as a lovely meatless entree with a nice salad, and enjoy!