This risotto with pesto represents one of the most important milestones in my experience with cooking. Many years ago, before I really knew what I was doing in the kitchen, I found some recipes by Jamie Oliver (including a risotto with pesto) and thought it would be fun to try cooking something more in-depth than my typical brown rice and tofu.

I went slow. Each recipe would take all afternoon. But the meals I created with his step-by-step recipes blew me away. I was putting together flavors beyond anything I had ever tasted, let alone anything I had prepared myself. What I learned from Jamie Oliver was much bigger than the skill of preparing a recipe. He showed me that anyone can cook incredible food if they love the ingredients, pay attention to the details, and develop flavors intentionally. That was a huge inspiration for me and it’s not entirely a coincidence that I’m now teaching others the same thing.

Now back to this risotto… It has more than just sentimental value to me. The flavors of the creamy rice with the sharp pesto and crunchy asparagus โ€“ food doesn’t get more delicious than this. Though the flavors were inspired by those I learned from Jamie Oliver, this is my own vegan recipe. We’ll make a quick risotto, blend together a homemade basil pesto, and stir it all together with fresh asparagus stalks. The most comforting of all comfort food.

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Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 12 oz arborio (risotto) rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Sea salt & black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 15-20 asparagus stalks
  • 1 lemon (juice)

Step One

Make a very classic pesto by combining basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and a little salt. Use the given measurements as a guide and adjust to your own tastes. This can be made just before the risotto, or up to a day ahead of time.

Step Two

All risottos start with red onions and celery, chopped very fine. Add these to a large, deep skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of water. Season with salt and pepper and give them 5 minutes to soften and begin to turn translucent.

Meanwhile, begin warming the broth over medium heat in a large stockpot. Break off the bottom 1/3 of the asparagus stalks and throw them right into the broth for additional flavor – they will be discarded later. With the top 2/3 of the asparagus, chop off the tips whole and then slice the remaining stalks into thin rounds. Set these aside for later.

Step Three

Add the rice into the skillet with celery and onions, and give it 2 minutes to cook dry. Then, add 1/2 cup of white wine and wait until absorbed into the rice.

Now begin the 20 minute process of adding one ladle of broth into the rice, stirring, and waiting for the broth to be absorbed into the rice before adding another ladle. This slow process is incredibly important to develop the starch in a way that will give your risotto the creamy, flowing texture you want.

Step Four

If you run out of broth, simply use warm water until two criteria have been met: 1) the risotto is no longer crunchy to taste and 2) it has a flowing, lava-like consistent where you can part it with a spoon and it will slowly fill in the gap. At that point, remove from the heat and toss in the chopped asparagus, pesto (reserving a bit for garnish), and a squeeze of lemon juice. You can also adjust the seasoning at this point and add a little more salt or pepper if needed.

Cover and give the risotto 5 minutes to rest before serving with a garnish of the remaining pesto.

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