Consider comfort: it’s as much in the mind as it is in the practical application, and what one person finds calming another will shudder at. Ascribing such properties to objects, tasks, sounds, textures, is what makes the world go round and for me, a scholar of Nigella Lawson, I have ended up with a kind of Pavlov’s Comforted Dog reaction to risotto through the frequent reading and re-reading of her cookbooks. The way Nigella writes about this dish and the reassuring joys of both making and eating it has staunchly solidified risotto’s place in my mind as a thing that comforts, and making risotto means It’s Comfort Time, there’s rain on the roof of my soul and a fire crackling in my heart and every fabric touching me is warm and soft. Presumably, if she’d spoken this way about, say, pancakes or steak tartare, that’s how I’d feel about those foods instead, but risotto speaks for itself — the repetitive, methodical stirring, the grains swelling under your spoon like a time-lapse video that hasn’t been sped up yet, the bowl-and-spoon homeliness of the finished dish, the acquiescent rice barely requiring any chewing from you.
My recipe for Green Pesto Risotto takes this amenable framework and turns it bright emerald with pureed spinach and the titular pesto, another immensely comforting food to me. There are films that whenever I rewatch it feels like the first time, I have a similar reaction every time I eat pesto. I simply will never get sick of it! Pesto will always be exciting to me! And so, naturally, a risotto pinging with pesto is especially delightful. This uses a fairly modest quantity, but then you stir in the spinach and suddenly that deep, monstera-coloured panful of rice feels like you’re practically diving into a pool of pesto, like a gluttonous Scrooge McDuck.
Pesto is delicious, rice is delicious, there’s not much more one can say, but nevertheless I will soldier on: this risotto has a delicate richness, supplemented by the gentle sub-onion flavour of the softened leek and the buttery grassiness of the spinach. Not having any wine to hand, I improvised with a splash of mirin and would do it again next time — its sweetness and rice-on-rice dovetailing worked fantastically. The pesto lends instant luxury with its dense basil richness, a scattering of pumpkin seeds provides the final touch of green.
I have no qualms with taking a shortcut by purchasing a tub of pesto from the supermarket, it’s not that this is a super-fast dish (given all that aforementioned stirring involved) but it does still streamline the process, and, more pertinently, buying the individual ingredients for a batch of pesto will probably cost you, without exaggeration, $30 — so you might as well buy the still-expensive but more efficient ready-made stuff. If you’re resolutely committed to making your own then you probably already know how but you might also consider my Spinach Pesto and Three-Nut Pesto recipes.
Green Pesto Risotto
Taking its name not just from the pesto but also the mountain of spinach stirred in, this risotto is luxurious, delicious, and — very — green. There are several notes with this recipe, so I recommend checking them first in case there’s a way you can make this your own. Recipe by myself.
- 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 1 leek
- 20g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
- 1 cup (roughly 200g) arborio rice, or risotto rice of your choice
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- 1 litre (4 cups) water, recently boiled
- 75g baby spinach (about three large handfuls)
- 1/4 cup hot water, extra
- 150g tub of pesto
- parmesan cheese or cheese of your choice to serve (optional)
1: In a large pan in which you’ll later make the risotto — I use a wide nonstick frying pan — toast the three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds until fragrant and lightly browned then tip them onto a plate and set aside. At this point it’s worth dealing with the litre of water that you’ll need later on — either warm it up in another pan on the stove or do as I do, which is to fill up the jug/kettle with water up to the litre mark, switch it on, and then pour it directly into the pan after it’s finished boiling.
2: Finely slice the leek’s white stem, and as much of the tender inner green top as is usable, into half moons, by halving it lengthwise and then making slices horizontally. Heat the 20g butter or two tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan as before, and gently fry the leeks over a low heat until they’ve collapsed and softened, but not browned. Stir in the two crushed garlic cloves.
3: Tip in the cup of arborio rice and stir for a minute to coat the grains in the leek-y butter and to let them toast slightly. Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the three tablespoons of mirin, which should bubble up and smell amazing, and then crumble in the first of your two stock cubes and begin adding the litre of water about 250ml/one cup at a time, stirring the rice steadily and allowing the grains to swell and absorb the water slowly but surely. Once the rice has absorbed the first measure of water, stir in the next 250ml, then the next 250ml along with the second stock cube, and as much of the remaining water as you need, stirring until the rice is completely tender without any granular bite to it. You may not need the entire litre of water — I only used about 850ml — but it’s good to have it there in case you do, and this stirring process should take around fifteen to twenty minutes.
4: Place the 75g baby spinach leaves in a blender with the 1/4 cup hot water (perhaps leftover from the jug that you boiled for the risotto) and blitz till it’s an astonishingly bright green liquid — and it’s fine if there are still some visible pieces of spinach left in it. Stir this green mixture into the risotto, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the 150g tub of pesto. Taste to see if it needs more salt, or more of anything, and serve scattered with the pumpkin seeds. I also tipped a little olive oil into my empty tub of pesto and shook it around a bit to scrape out every last precious bit of pesto, and then drizzled this oil over the risotto. If you’re using grated parmesan, now would be the time to fold as much as you want through the risotto and to drop more on top of each serving of rice.
Serves 3-4 as a side or light main, serves 2 heartily.
- If you have a carton of prepared broth or stock then you can use that instead of the 750ml water and two stock cubes, and you can use vegetable or beef here as well — I just prefer the blend of herbs in the chicken stock cubes that I use.
- I used mirin because that’s what I had and it was great, but you could use the same amount of dry vermouth or dry white wine or, if you don’t keep alcohol in the house, leave it out, in which case the risotto might welcome a squeeze of lemon juice at the end or a little extra stock.
- If you don’t have a blender or just don’t feel like washing an extra dish, you can finely chop the spinach before adding it to the risotto. The risotto will be more green-flecked than truly green, but it won’t affect the taste.
- You could certainly add more pesto if your tub is larger than 150g, but I wouldn’t want any less.
- Chopped pistachios would be wonderful instead of, or as well as, the pumpkin seeds.
- If you happen to have a stick of celery kicking around in your fridge, finely dice it and add it along with the leeks.
Wildflower Soul by Sonic Youth. When a song changes tempo and then builds to a towering crescendo of fuzzy guitars before tapering off again with a sigh and has lyrics that are emotional yet vague enough for me to project anything onto them that suits my current context? That song is made for me!
Throwing Stones by Sneaky Feelings, as perfectly melancholy as a piece of cold toast.
On Friday I saw the North Shore Music Theatre production of Wicked, having been able to purchase a ticket as a birthday present, and as it was my first time seeing a non-replica show I was a little — not apprehensive, but really just curious as to how it was going to play out. Wicked is a hugely involved feat of engineering and sequins that you can’t do low-key! Happily the production was, well, wonderful, I was crying, I recognised riffs and opt-ups and choices, I was entirely swept up in the helter-skelter magic sensory onslaught of it all. I’m actually quite restrained when it comes to favourite performers — for me, Elphaba-wise, it’s Idina Menzel, Julia Murney, and Alexia Khadime, the latter of whom has returned to the role of Elphaba in London thirteen years after she first performed it, and I wish I could be there to see it — Alexia’s first Defying Gravity in 2008 truly rewired my brain, and I can hear it without even needing youtube.
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