Saturday, April 18, 2009

Risotto Primavera with "Worms"

When I was young, the biggest influence on my developing interest in cooking--after my mother and great-aunts--was my college roommate, Debby Mefferd. Debby grew up in a family that deeply celebrated food and cooking and good wine, and I'll never forget my first visit to her family house in St. Louis. We spent the entire day shopping to cook and then cooking (racking up the most impossible pile of pots and pans and bowls) and then eating. And at dinner her father and a friend of his did a blind tasting of a French red burgundy in which they correctly identified not only the particular vineyard but also which slope (north- or south-facing) the grapes had clearly been grown on. Most humbling.

Anyway, to this day Debby and I love to talk about food, including a recent missive from Deb about a risotto she cooked. The recipe is adapted from The New York Times.

Risotto Primavera with "Worms"

Last year during the Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the USA we were not surprised to hear that he wanted light, seasonal food prepared for him at the residence of the papal nuncio in New York. After all, he's almost Italian.

The New York Times
ran a story about a risotto primavera, full of fresh seasonal vegetables, which became a favorite of ours last spring. Spring is here again, and this year we found fiddlehead ferns at our local market, so could have even more fun playing around with the recipe. However, what with the law of unintended consequences, the fiddlehead ferns, after all that stirring, cooked up to look like fiddlehead worms.

The key to the risotto is a fresh pesto that is stirred in at the end, making it extremely green. If you can't find all the green vegetables, just use what is available, but don't omit the pesto.

1/2 cup ramps (or substitute leeks or chives)
1-1/2 cups raw spinach
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sliced scallions
2 shallots, diced
2-1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6-1/2 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 cup shelled fresh peas
1/2 cup asparagus, blanched
1 cup fresh fava beans (taken from their pods, blanched and peeled)
1 cup fiddlehead ferns, blanched
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. For the pesto: Place the ramps, spinach and salt in a food processor. Have the olive oil at hand. Have everything staged and standing by, but don't actually process the pesto until just before you need it (step 4).
2. For the risotto: In a large broad pan or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the scallions and shallots and cook to soften them.
3. Add the rice and stir until the centers of the grains are white and the edges translucent. Add the wine and stir while it evaporates. Add the chicken broth by ladlefuls, and stir constantly. Cook over high heat and don't add another ladle of broth until the previous one is completely absorbed. When the rice is a little more than half cooked, in 25 minutes or so, add the vegetables, and continue stirring and ladling until all the broth has been used. Turn off the heat.
4. Quickly process the pesto--or get your sous chef to do it while you stir in the last ladle of broth [grin]--by pouring the olive oil into the food processor while it is running and chopping the ramps and spinach. Stir the pesto into the risotto.
5. Stir in the butter. Stir in half the cheese. Ladle into deep serving dishes and top with the remaining cheese.


  1. Thinking about it, the way to use fiddleheads in this recipe would be to cook them separately and add at the last minute. That way they will stay coiled.

  2. are you debby mefferd from Tufts?