Springtime is, by far, my favorite season. I’m sure that there aren’t any more beautiful cities in the spring than Atlanta, Georgia. Ornamental cherry trees, dogwood trees, and azaleas abound! I love seeing things bud and bloom and show signs of life after the cold days of winter. I, along with all the flora, seem to come back to life in the spring.
In Mississippi, where I was raised, my grandfather’s garden produced some spring produce, but more “exotic” fresh vegetables (by small town Mississippi standards), such as broccoli and asparagus were nowhere to be seen in grocery stores except in the canned and frozen section.
Ms. King, the matriarch of my childhood second family, loved growing things and I vividly remember her planting asparagus in her back yard. As a child I was always fascinated by seeing the spears push through the spring dirt and stand tall. Sometimes she would let the spears grow and they would turn into lovely fern-like plants. I experienced fresh asparagus and grew to love it during those childhood springs when she would share her crop.
Another favorite spring vegetable that I didn’t taste in its fresh form until I was an adult was English or green peas. As a child, I didn’t realize there there was any other variety than the canned ones. I remember them as mushy, dull green, and metal-tasting. I was in heaven when I first tried fresh-out-of-the-garden peas. The bright green color and sweet taste of lightly blanched peas with a little butter, salt, and pepper still make me salivate! For the recipe in this post, frozen peas will suffice if fresh ones are not available. If you do have access to fresh ones, by all means use them!
Risotto makes a fantastic one dish meal. If you learn the basic technique of making risotto, the sky is the limit in terms of ingredients that you can use. I adore seafood risotto and I’ve also made a fantastic butternut squash version. Any number of fresh herbs added at the very end can make this rice dish spectacular.
Cooking risotto requires constant stirring and takes about 15 minutes of your undivided attention. However, I find that glasses of wine and good conversation with friends makes the time fly. Dinner will be ready in a flash. Try this recipe and leave me a comment with ideas for your favorite version.
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 cups asparagus spears (sliced diagonally into 1 inch pieces)
1/2 cup snow peas (sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped leek, white and light green part only
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup high quality white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mascarpone or cream cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup basil chiffonade
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest, packed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1. Mix lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Place shrimp in a small bowl. Pour marinade over shrimp and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes.
2. When risotto is almost done, heat grill pan and grill shrimp for 2-3 minutes on each side or until pink and opaque. Set aside.
1. Prepare an ice bath with ice and water in a medium bowl. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add asparagus, snow peas, and green peas (if fresh) and blanch for 1 minute. If you prefer softer vegetables, leave them in for 2 minutes. Remove from boiling water and immediately place vegetables in the ice bath to stop cooking. If you are using frozen peas, just thaw and set aside. Remove vegetables from ice bath, drain, and set aside.
2. Pour chicken stock into a small pot and heat until simmering. Reduce heat.
3. Melt butter with olive oil in a medium large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
4. Add rice and mix well, coating rice with oil and butter. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring regularly.
5. Add wine and continue stirring until evaporated.
6. Add 1 ladle of chicken stock to the rice and stir until evaporated. Continue the process of adding 1 ladle of stock at a time and stirring until absorbed. This process will take about 15 minutes. When done, the rice will be tender but firm.
7. When you add the last ladle of stock, add vegetables and salt. When vegetables are heated through, remove from heat. Add mascarpone (or cream cheese), Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice. Mix well.
8. Serve immediately, topping each plate with 4 grilled shrimp, additional Parmesan cheese, and a basil leaf.