Meatless Monday: Creamy risotto

If you don't mind stirring, creamy risotto makes a delicious meal for fall.

Karen Elshout/MCT/Newscom
Risotto, essentially a cheesy rice dish, can be easily adapted to incorporate a variety of vegetables including broccoli and mushrooms. Here it is pictured with winter squash.

The other night my friends came over to eat risotto in heaping bowlfuls. They are all single urbanites, charging in a million different directions. I wan’t sure who would show up at the dinner table. In the end, there were five of us – just kind of “coming home” together after a week of hectic schedules, new jobs, and surviving the ordinary.

I had never made risotto before. I’ve heard how easy it is, except for the part where you have to stand over the stove stirring for awhile. Fortunately for me, my apartment is so small I could stir at the stove and still be a part of the conversation that was happening in the living room three steps away.

The risotto was inspired because I had gotten an e-mail from a Grana Padano rep in New York asking if I wanted to try Grana Padano. “Sure,” I replied back, “why don’t you send me a sample?”

A few days later I got a cardboard box with a hunk of cheese wrapped in plastic wrap and plain white butcher paper (no worries, we’re all fine).

What is Grana Padano? It’s a mild form of Parmesan cheese, and in some cases less expensive. But it still has a delicious flavor and I’ve been adding it to my pastas and salads all week. Note: If you have a green cylinder of grated Parmesan cheese in your ‘fridge, do yourself a favor and throw it away. You are not experiencing real Parmesan flavor. Freshly grated cheese is always best, no exceptions.

Anyway, the reason why Grana Padano cheese is no longer considered Parmesan cheese has to do with EC rules: Parmesan cheese has to come from within a recognized Parmesan area. You can read more about that here. But essentially, “To bear the Parmigiano label, Parmesan cheese must be made from cow’s milk between May and November in Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, or parts of Bologna and Mantova,” according to the WannaBeTVChef.

Fair enough. Grana Padano is from the area of the Po Valley in northern Italy and is aged for at least 12 months, thus its quality and depth of flavor.

Along with the cheese sample came a booklet of recipes, which is where I found “Risotto with Vegetables & Grana Padano” by New York chef Lidia Bastianich. This isn’t exactly her recipe. She has you do more fancy things like purée the broccoli stems and add lima beans. I just went for simpler, and made mine vegetarian. And added mushrooms. Love mushrooms!

In any case, it was lovely. I served it with a baby spinach salad with mint, cucumbers, sun dried tomatoes and toasted almonds. I found a blog with a great trick for dressing: Juice of 1/2 lemon, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar in the bottom of your salad bowl. Settle the greens on top and when you are ready to serve, toss!

Mushroom Broccoli Risotto
Serves 6

1/2 lb. broccoli
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
6-1/2 cups hot vegetable broth
1/2 cup minced scallions, green included (about 5)
1 tablespoon, or 1 small, shallot
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, or cooking wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese, freshly grated
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Prepare the broccoli florets, keeping them small, and the scallions, shallot, and mushrooms. Peel broccoli stems and slice into 2-inch pieces.

In a saucepan, heat the vegetable broth.

In a 3- to 4-quart casserole or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the scallion, shallot, and mushrooms and sauté until shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring often.

Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Toast rice until the edges become translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the wine and stir until well evaporated. Add 1/2 cup of the hot stock and the salt. Cook, stirring constantly until the stock has been absorbed. Continue to add stock in small batches and cook until absorbed. After about 12 minutes add the broccoli. Stir constantly until the rice mixture is creamy but al dente. This will take about 18 minutes.

Remove casserole from heat. Whip in butter until melted, then add the Grana Padano. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Related post: Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagna

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