It seems that a tentative spring has finally sprung. Much of the snow in the Wood River Valley has disappeared, leaving a depressing layer of mud in its wake. Maybe that's what triggers the annual urge to spring clean, flinging open windows and letting fresh air into a stuffy, winter-sealed house.
Now that the days are longer and the weather is slightly warmer, it's the perfect time to clear out all those canned and dry goods and other ingredients that you meant to use over the winter but never got around to.
Cans of tomatoes that seem to have been breeding can be turned into sauce, surplus potatoes go into latkes or hashed browns and that lone bottle of off-brand beer can be made into beer bread—which, incidentally, will make amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.
But it's not impossible to pull together a fancier meal that will use up those staples and impress dinner guests. If you have rice, chicken broth and white wine hiding out in the back of a cabinet and a bag of peas in your freezer, then you have the start of a pretty fantastic spring risotto.
Risotto has a reputation for being finicky, time-consuming and difficult to do well. That's somewhat true, but it's also creamy without being mushy and indulgent without being heavy—perfect for an early spring meal.
The key to risotto is not to rush. Cook it slowly, stirring every few minutes over medium-low heat. The slow cooking helps the rice attain the right consistency, and stirring helps it cook evenly without sticking to the bottom of the pan. Your patience will be rewarded, rest assured.
This recipe has a few quirks. Make sure the peas are smooth when you take them out of the food processor; if they are, your risotto will turn a brilliant, spectacular green.
Also, remove the pan from the heat before stirring in the puree and whole peas, or the veggies will begin to cook and turn brown.
Top a serving of risotto with a sliced grilled chicken breast and serve alongside a salad. Suddenly, you have the perfect spring meal—and a nice clean pantry.
Sweet Pea Risotto
Adapted from Real Simple magazine
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups short-grained (Arborio) rice
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup fresh shredded Parmesan (Kraft won't melt as well)
kosher salt and black pepper
2 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated in the oil. Toast rice until you can hear it clicking slightly against the sides of the pan. Lower heat to medium-low. Add the wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the broth and cook until absorbed, stirring occasionally.
Add the remaining broth half a cup at a time, waiting until each portion is absorbed before adding the next. Continue until the rice is al dente, about 35 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, puree 2 cups of peas in a blender or food processor. Before serving, stir the peas into the rice until fully incorporated, then fold in remaining whole peas. Serves four people.
Katherine Wutz is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.