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West Town Tavern Wild Mushroom Chowder

20 Dec

This is one of those beautiful soup recipes that can be created 100% from your local farmers market produce, even in the thick of winter.  Onions, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and herbs are some of the staple items these markets build on in winter (plus a wonderful selection of bread, cheese and jarred goods).  This week I went a little crazy at the River Valley Ranch mushroom stand and purchased about 6 pounds of mushrooms for my Mushroom-Asparagus Strata which I plan to make for our weekly supper club which is themed Breakfast for Dinner this week,  for a green bean casserole I plan to make for Christmas (more to come on these in the next few days), and for this soup.  I had the poor guy at the stand separating Creminis, Shitakes and Oysters into 3 separate bags of various sizes, rummaging through my list while I counted pounds off on my fingers.  Needless to say, Tom crept back into the crowd, ashamed of my torture of the local mushroom man  and my embarrassingly horrible mental math skills.   I was embarrassed not in the least!  It’s winter, I’m carrying my coat and my hat and my scarf, a new bottle of hot sauce, a bag of lettuce…and I could hardly be his most difficult customer of the day…right? I also picked up a new barrel-aged hot sauce from my new favorite local hot sauce supplier CO-OP (who also makes a great Ghost Pepper and Grapefruit hot sauce which I have been unable to stop raving about for weeks).

The aromas emanating from this soup while cooking are reason enough to make it.  It just smells so good.  I was actually a little concerned in the early stages of cooking that the dish would be overwhelmingly rich but it is actually very well-rounded, subtly highlights each of the individual flavors.  Tom’s 8 year-old nephew even finished the bowl.  The addition of Worcestershire and sherry (or red wine) brings out the earthy flavors of the mushrooms and the hot sauce adds a nice, gentle kick (although I doubled the hot sauce).  If you still have not picked up the Soup & Bread Cookbook, get out there and pick it up.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 cups chopped mixed mushrooms

1 1/2 cups carrot, finely diced

2 1/3 cups peeled potato, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, minced

1/2 cup sherry or dry red wine

5 1/3 cup vegetable broth or water

2 large bay leaves

4 sprigs thyme

1 1/3 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

Sauté: Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until tender and slightly browned (7 minutes).  Add mushrooms, cover and cook on a lower heat until the juices release from the mushrooms (5 minutes).  Uncover, raise the heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms are tender (7-10 minutes).

Reduce: Add carrots, potatoes and garlic and stir.  Add wine or sherry and cook until the vegetables are coated and the sauce has reduced to a glaze (2-3 minutes).

Boil: Add broth or water.  Add springs of thyme and bay leaves, preferably tied so as to easily be removed.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer until all vegetables are tender (20 minutes).  Remove bay leaves and thyme.  Puree one cup of the soup in a food processor or puree slightly with an immersion blender.  Chowder should remain slightly chunky but the puree will add a heartier texture to the broth.

Cream and Season: Add cream and return to boil.  Reduce to medium and boil until slightly reduced (10 minutes).  Add Worcestershire sauce.  Season soup with salt, pepper and hot sauce.  Garnish with croutons and chopped fresh thyme.

Adapted from West Town Tavern Wild Mushroom Chowder by Susan Goss as published in the Soup & Bread Cookbook.

 


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French Bread

22 Nov

In honor of today being my birthday, I am posting my absolute favorite recipe of all time: french bread.  In keeping with both my, and many of my friends’, ongoing efforts to cook from scratch, craft, draft, build, hammer, plant, knit, eat, think and dream for ourselves and with ourselves – with the help of friends and local artisans and experts, of course – I decided this summer that I would make my own bread too.  I started shopping around for a breadmaker but came across Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible first.  I thought, why not give the old elbow grease and oven method a try before spending a minor fortune on a machine that would do it for me.

I haven’t looked back.  There is nothing better than fresh bread from the oven, made from scratch, molded by hand.  And all it takes is a bowl, a whisk, an oven and a little muscle.  Hensperger’s book has changed my entire thinking about cooking; it has really changed my life.  These days, when I’ve had a bad day, all frustration is spewed out and soaked up into the yeasty, welcome embrace of my bread.  I whisk that dough like I’m slashing through thick forest of problems.  And then I kick its ass.  I punch it and toss it and squeeze it until I simply don’t want to anymore.  Because there’s no rules in bread.  It’s done when you say it’s done.  It’s done right when you like it.  My bread and I reconcile during kneading, as my fingers get submerged in its warm and sticky embrace.  And at the end of it all, there’s me, and there’s this springy little ball of purposeful dough standing ready for what may come.

When I’ve had a good day, you may spot me through my 3rd story window, prancing from room to room, whisking away at my bowl while jibberjabbing about my day to Tom or to another friend who’s stopped by.  I’ve been known to dance to some tunes while kneading (it helps, trust me).  Hensperger compares kneading to Tai Chi, but I don’t have the patience for all that.  For me, it’s a goofy looking dance at best, but we all relax in our own ways.

The real joy of making bread is the act of using your hands, getting them dirty, covered in dough balls, physically contributing to the bread’s creation.  You know that bread.  You know what it’s made of and where it came from and how it was molded into what you’re now eating.  It’s a little work and that work makes it so much more rewarding.

And to think, I almost bought the breadmaker…

2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)

1 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups bread flour

2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Sprinkling of cornmeal

Bubble: Pour water into a large bowl.  Spread yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.  Whisk to combine.  Let this mixture rise and bubble for 10-15 minutes, or until the surface appears foamy and bubbly.

Whisk: Add 2 cups bread flour and whisk until fully combined (3-5 minutes).  Add remaining bread flour and all-purpose 1/2 cup at a time.  Whisk thoroughly until fully combined before adding the next 1/2 cup.  I usually use only 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, but continue adding flour until the dough just pulls away from the edges of the bowl.

Knead: Flip the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead the bread for 5-10 minutes or until a springy ball of dough is formed.  Add flour to hands and surface as required to prevent sticking.

Rise: Lightly oil a large bowl.  Place dough in the oiled bowl, flipping the dough once to lightly cover the entire surface in oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  You can either place the bowl in the fridge overnight or place the dough at room temperature for 1 -2 hours*

Prep: If you have a pizza/bread stone, use it.  If not, any old baking pan will do.**  Preheat the oven to 450 and keep the pizza stone in the oven as it preheats so the stone is nice and hot when you start baking.  This will allow the bottom of the bread to crisp evenly with the rest.  As the oven preheats, flip the dough back out onto a lightly floured surface and break into 3 even pieces.  If the dough seems too sticky, knead in additional flour as needed.  Shape the three portions either into round balls for loaves or long ovals for baguettes.  Cover with the plastic wrap and allow to rise as the oven preheats (approximately 30 minutes).  As the bread rises and the oven preheats, whisk 1 egg into 1-2 tablespoons water in a small bowl.

Bake: Pull the stone from the oven and sprinkle the surface with cornmeal.  This will prevent sticking and add a nice texture to the base of the bread.  Place the 3 loaves/baguettes onto the stone.  Cut a shallow “x” into the top of each loaf or slice 3 shallow lines across the top of the baguette. Glaze the outside of the bread with the egg/water mixture.  This will create a crispy and shiny crust.  Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and spray or flick a little water into the oven.  Again, this will help create a crispy crust.  Then place the stone with bread into the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes (or until the crust reaches the desired crispness and color).

Cool: Pull the bread off the stone as it will remain hot for quite a while.  At this point, most good cooks would suggest allowing the bread to cool, but let’s be serious, the bread is best when it’s hot out of the oven.  I can rarely resist breaking of a piece to try while it is hot enough to melt a little olive oil, cheese or butter.  However, for storage purposes, you will want to let it cool before placing it in a bag on your counter.  The bread usually lasts 2-3 days at room temperature.

Adapted from the French Bread recipe in Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible

* I have found that the bread turns out best if you can allow it to rise for 1-2 hours at room temperature, press the bread back into the bowl, then allow it to rise for another 1 hour after that.  However, since every day can’t be Sunday and seriously, who has a spare 3 hours after work, before night classes and between drinks with friends?  I usually use the overnight method and it still turns out just fine.

**I strongly recommend investing in a stone (or asking for one for your birthday or stealing one from you parents’ gigantic, awesome collection of long-unused kitchen gear, which is clearly what Tom and I have done) because it simply bakes everything better.  Every kind of bread and pizza simply turns out better on a stone.  And it keeps your food warm for quite a while after you’ve pulled it out of the oven.

Haitian Independence Soup

14 Nov

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, small diced

2 carrots, small diced

3 ribs celery, small diced

1 turnip, peeled and diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1 cube vegetable bouillon

SOFTEN: Place cubed butternut squash in large pot.  Cover with water and add sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer until squash is completely softened (15-20 minutes).

PUREE: Using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor) puree water, sugar and butternut squash combination until smooth.  Set aside and keep warm.

SAUTE: Heat 1 spin of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add carrots, celery and onion.  Saute until softened (5-7 minutes).  Add turnips, potatoes and salt & pepper (as desired).  Stir and cook for another few minutes (3-5 minutes).  Add garlic, stir and cook one additional minute.

SIMMER: Add butternut square puree to the other veggies.  Add water to desired consistency, if needed.  Add bouillon cube, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.  Stir in cilantro.  Simmer together, the longer the better (at least 15-20 minutes).

Adapted from Chantal Powell in Soup & Bread Cookbook

This is the first recipe in the newly published Soup & Bread Cookbook.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Soup & Bread, be sure to check them out.  S&B was started by Martha Bayne who was bored of spending cold, not-so-busy Wednesday nights tending bar at The Hideout so she invited some friends by to make some soup, share, mingle and eat.  She encourages local professional and amateur chefs to bring crockpots filled with their favorite soup or some tasty loaves of bread to share.  Everyone pitches in a donation which is then given to local charities, particularly the Chicago Food Depository.  She also has plenty of tips for getting similar initiatives started in other cities.   S&B is a great homage to soup itself, which has been building community, stretching foods to help ease hunger and keeping us warm through many winters.   Be sure to come out for the next S&B series in Chicago which starts this January.   The S&B Cookbook is a compilation of favorite soups brought to S&B over the years, with helpful tips and entertaining stories on using soup to foster community building.

This recipe is absolutely delicious.  Adding just a touch of sugar to the butternut squash as it boils adds a subtle sweetness, almost similar to sweet potatoes.  I added a little cayenne pepper which created a nice balance of spicy and sweet.  I love the simplicity, adding only cilantro to spice it up; yet simmering the cilantro into the soup prevented the cilantro from overpowering the it which I’ve found cilantro has a tendency to do.  Great start to an excellent cookbook.  More soup recipes to come..it’s only November.

Spicy Tomato Salsa

11 Sep

9 dried chili peppers

Hot water

12 cups diced cored peeled tomatoes (1/2 inch/1 cm dice) * See How to Peel Tomatoes.

3 cups chopped red onion

1 1/2 cups tightly packed, finely chopped cilantro

15  cloves garlic, finely chopped

6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped * If you like your salsas extra spicy, leave in all or a portion of the seeds and membranes.

3/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tbsp salt

3/4 tsp hot pepper flakes

1. In a heatproof glass or stainless steel bowl, combine dried chilies with hot water to cover.  Weigh chilies down with a bowl or a weight to ensure they remain submerged, and soak until softened, about 15 minutes.  Drain off half the water.  Transfer chilies and remaining water to a blender or a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until smooth.

2. Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine chili puree, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno peppers, vinegar, salt and hot pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

4. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa.  Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process both 8-ounce and pint jars for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.

I haven’t been able to stop talking and thinking about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which chronicles the year she and her family  committed to eating 100% local produce.  She talks about asparagus the way some men talk about women in fishnets; and I can tell you, I’ve been as excited to see asparagus in local markets after a long, food-dull winter as many are to see beer, nachos and Bears football today. Maybe the book has stuck with me because I share her utter excitement in juicy, sweet tomatoes after months of unripened, tasteless toms from god-knows-where at grocery stores, but really, it’s just that she makes it sound so incredibly easy and doable.  And it turns out, it is.

I don’t live on a farm and I share my yard with 6 other units (currently 11 people total) so although the City of Chicago does allow its residents to raise and keep both chickens and roosters on their property within city limits, I figured all 11 neighbors would not be welcoming to a little brood of chickens between the 3 grills,2 tables and my garden.  Space is tight as it is.  These were the sorts of things I thought immediately as she described ordering her little box of chickens and the variety of wild turkeys for her property.  Literally every can-not that I’ve come up with has been followed by a very easy solution in the city.  For example, Gene’s Sausage Shop and Delicatessen, which is 3 blocks from my house, sells free range, organic chickens from a farm in Wisconsin and there are nearly always local eggs and meat at the farmers markets (and there is a farmers market somewhere in this city every day of the week).  I haven’t fully boarded the all-local-bandwagon (it’s so hard to resist avocados in summer) but I would estimate that well over 80% of the items I’ve cooked at home this summer have been local.

So as fall is setting in, I’m contemplating how to continue supporting local farming and how to save the tastes of summer.  This weekend was momentous because I finally started jarring.  This was yet another task that I had found completely daunting, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy and, between you and me, fun it can be.  I started with this salsa recipe but I also made a peach salsa that I hope to post soon.  It’s so convenient to have homemade salsa available when you need it and each of the individual ingredients shine in the homemade salsa rather than condensing into a homogenous stew like many of the store-bought options.  If it seems like too much work for you alone, get friends together to split the jars (this recipe makes 12 8-oz jars).  And I happen to know the local Ace Hardware on Lincoln Avenue is having a sale on jars and canners through the end of the month.  I’m happy to burst your can-not bubble, but no excuses,  you can do it too.

Spicy Corn and Crab Chowder

23 Aug

1 medium poblano chile
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup half-and-half, divided
1 (8-ounce) russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cups water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
1 (8-ounce) container crab claw meat, shell pieces removed

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Place poblano on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 8 minutes on each side or until blackened. Place pepper in a small zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and chop.
3. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients (through red pepper) to pan; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn; sauté 2 minutes. Remove 3/4 cup corn mixture from pan. Combine 3/4 cup corn mixture and 3/4 cup half-and-half in a blender; process until smooth. Add potato to pan; sauté 1 minute. Stir in 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Cook 4 minutes or until potato is almost tender. Reduce heat to medium.

4. Combine remaining 1/4 cup half-and-half and flour in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Add flour mixture to pan. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Return corn puree to pan. Stir in poblano, milk, and crab; bring to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Julianna Grimes, Cooking Light, August, 2010

As you may know, my favorite things to cook are breads, pies and soups.  So, when the weather turned chilly (and by chilly I mean high 70s to low 80s, but it’s all relative, right?) I wasted no time getting back to chop-stir-simmer-enjoy business.  I love that you can leave most soups to boil away, filling the house with complex yet comforting aromas and a steamy heat you can’t find anywhere else.   As such, I was a little disappointed to find that while this chowder did provide the hoped-for olfactory excitement,  it did require quite a bit of hands-on time and sagged on flavor.   The lack of sit-and-simmer time  may have contributed to the disappointing outcome of the chowder in which the flavors both failed to come together or to shine individually.  I love poblanos and could barely taste them.

If I made this again, I would add additional poblanos, sweet peppers, potatoes and possibly even bacon to to add a little something extra.  I would decrease the milk added in the last step as it seems a little watered down or, well, milky.  I would also add some additional spices such as thyme, chili powder or paprika (though not all at once) to spice it up a bit.   This could make for a good base upon which to develop a more complex chowder, but let’s face it, there’s much better recipes out there already.

Easy Summer Pico de Gallo

4 Jul

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped

1-2 jalapenos (depending on your spice-tolerance/preference), seeded and finely chopped

3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 lime

2 avocados

1. Combine chopped tomatoes, red onion, mango, jalapeno and cilantro in a medium-sized bowl.  Add fresh-squeezed juice from 1 lime.  Stir to combine.  Add salt to taste.  Place mixture in the refrigerator until ready to serve, preferably overnight.

2. Before serving, add chopped avocados and stir to combine.  Serve with tortilla chips.

I have to give primary credit for this recipe to Mary McMullin who asked me to come up with a salsa to serve with simple grilled chicken breasts, using her 2 mangos, a few tomatoes and an avocado.  I insisted that we add onion and jalapeno to spice it up and have since added the lime which helps to preserve the ingredients and adds a nice citrusy splash.  I just served this on a camping trip in Michigan.  I divided the batch into two servings, tossed them in the cooler and added 1 avocado per serving to keep it fresh.  Great way to use those farmer’s market tomatoes and serve a big crowd.  You can also mix it up by adding different peppers such as any bell pepper or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Paella with Poblanos, Corn, and Clams

16 May

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
3/4 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 pounds littleneck clams
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 lemon wedges

1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Heat oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, poblanos, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; sauté 3 minutes. Add rice and saffron. Cook 2 minutes; stir constantly. Add 2 cups water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper; bring to a boil.
3. Bake at 450° for 50 minutes or until rice is done. Stir in corn and tomatoes. Nestle clams into rice mixture. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until shells open, and discard unopened shells.
4. Return the pan to medium-high heat, and cook without stirring 10 minutes or until liquid evaporates and rice browns. (It should smell toasty but not burned.) Top with parsley; serve with lemon wedges.

Mark Bittman, Cooking Light , May 2011

I made this paella last night before heading out to watch the bulls wins (!) so I was drinking a sauvignon blanc and managed to burn myself not once or twice but three times on the pot.  Once the pot goes in the oven, keep the mitt on if you are in the habit of holding the handle while stirring your skillet-cooking foods.  Yes, I am an idiot, but hopefully this warning will help others avoid the same finger-burning fate.

The burns were worth every second!  I’ve never had a dish with saffron or poblano that I didn’t like and this was certainly no exception.  I’ve made paellas in the past, but this is hands down my favorite.  The wealth of smoky heat is balanced by the citrus of fresh squeezed lemon pouring from the perfectly cooked clams.  Nothing overpowers here.  The corn adds texture and a nice sweetness.  This dish is perfect for entertaining because the hands-on time is relatively short, but the product is complex and impressive.   Or you can make it for two to spice up an otherwise average Sunday night.

I strongly recommend serving with a light white wine.

Croutons

3 May

I am always buying baguettes because it goes with most anything, especially cheese which is, let’s be serious, half my daily diet these days.  But things tend to get a little busier at this time of year and I hate to see baguettes go to waste so although it may seem common sense, I just thought I’d remind you all that it’s super easy to transform stale baguettes into tasty croutons in all of 10 minutes.  Honestly, the hardest part is breaking up the bread.  Simply toss the bread pieces with a little olive oil, fresh garlic or garlic powder and a few of your favorite fresh or dried spices (I prefer thyme, oregano and rosemary).   Pop it in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes and you’re good to go.  Far exceeds the store-bought options and reduces guilt caused by wasted food.

Spring Linguine with Basil

3 May


9 ounces uncooked fresh linguine
1 cup shelled fresh green peas
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
2 ounces shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add peas to pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain pasta mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup pasta liquid.
2. Heat oil and butter in pan over medium heat 1 minute or until butter melts. Remove from heat; stir in pasta mixture, reserved pasta water, juice, salt, and pepper; toss well.
3. Divide pasta mixture evenly among 4 bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon basil and about 2 tablespoons cheese. Serve immediately.

David Bonom, Cooking Light, May 2010

I simply can’t get enough of these simple pasta dishes in spring.  The heavier, slow-cooked pastas of winter can tend to conglomerate all of the individual flavors into a single other flavor altogether.  This can be a wonderful thing when you’re incorporating your 20th jar or can of stewed tomatoes for the winter and you’re looking to spice it up, but as more and better quality spring produce becomes available, I want to take each and every component.  This pasta does just that, highlighting rather than overpowering each flavor and the citrusy, floral combination of lemon and Parmesan is just perfect.

I still haven’t found any peas at the local markets and my own peas at home are only about 7 inches tall still, but for those of you in better climates, they should already be readily available.  Enjoy!

Risotto with Spring Vegetables

27 Apr

2 cups shelled fava beans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled)
1/2 cup fresh green peas
4 cups chicken or veggie stock2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 cup uncooked Carnaroli or Arborio rice or other medium-grain rice
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
1/2 cup white wine
8 ounces thin asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Cook beans in boiling water 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Remove tough outer skins from beans; discard skins. Cook peas in boiling water 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.
2. Bring Homemade Chicken Stock to a simmer in a small saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.
3. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add shallots and carrot to pan; cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add rice and saffron; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup stock; cook 4 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of stock is absorbed before adding the next (about 25 minutes total). Stir in fava beans, peas, and asparagus with last addition of stock. Remove from heat; stir in cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper.

David Bonom, Cooking Light, May 2010

This risotto is absolutely perfect for those cool, rainy April days we’ve been having in Chicago.  It incorporates plenty of early-spring produce that’s now popping up in local farmers markets, including asparagus, carrots, fava beans, onion and peas.  The white wine and saffron enhance these fresh veggies and the Parmesan adds a nice floral zing.

In case you’re new to the wonderful world of fava beans, as many Americans are, here is a little background.  Fava beans are one of the oldest beans around, originating approximately 3000 BC.  They’ve been a staple in Europe and Asia for centuries, but have remained fairly obscure in the U.S.  As such, there are a little overpriced in our markets, but still doable.  I’ve also found a newfound love of cooking with fava beans because they are so satisfying to shell; the beans are big enough that they don’t get lost in the process and they pop out really easily.  They have a buttery and slightly bitter taste and add quite a bit of texture to this and any other dish.

This is a great weeknight meal but, as with any risotto, be prepared to spend some time hovering over the warm stove.  I’m a major wimp compared those strong Italian women and after cooking risotto my arm is always tired and I’m hot as hell.  No worries, there will be cold white wine at hand.