One of the goals for my current challenge of eating from the pantry was to devise some new recipes that would work beyond “being in a pinch.” I was hoping to come up with a few that I could prepare easily with what I would ordinarily have on hand, but also be able to include with our tried and true meals. So far, I’ve had three successes and one failure.
Since it’s Monday, we’re starting with the most raved and enjoyed of the three successes. This way you’re armed and ready with an easy meal if you have nothing planned, or if you forget to make rice too. We’ll save the laughable epic failure for tomorrow.
My skills at risotto are lacking. Gordon Ramsey made risotto seem easy on Hell’s Kitchen, and my step-mom makes an amazing risotto too. Unfortunately, my personal experiences have been completely hit and miss. My thought process when I came up with this dish went something like this:
I’m not that great at risotto, but pesto is delicious. Maybe if I combine the two it’ll taste sorta kinda good.
As it turns out, this dish was nearly on par with the amazing risotto a la step-mom. It makes a great side dish to any meat and you can also tailor the recipe a bit depending on your family’s tastes. Since this was born out of a pantry challenge, I didn’t have some of “this” or “that” the recipe normally calls for, but I’m including those ingredients in case you A) want to use them, or B) need to use them.
(as a side dish, makes about 8 servings)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped (optional)
2 cups Arborio rice
6-8 cups chicken stock
1/4-1/2 cup prepared pesto (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese*
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter on low. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent. Raise heat to medium and add rice, stirring** until the rice looks chalky and you can see a white dot in the center of the grains (3-5 minutes).
Stir** in one cup of chicken stock. When the stock is absorbed, stir** in another cup. Repeat this for the third cup of stock as well.
Begin adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, along with 1 tablespoon of pesto. Stir** continuously until the stock is absorbed. Keep repeating this process and start tasting the risotto. The rice should be tender yet slightly firm to the bite – taking care to not overcook the rice. Adjust more or less pesto with each tasting, to your preferences. Remove the risotto from the heat when it is almost, but not quite done.
Fold in 1 tablespoon of butter, then gently fold in the Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
* Real Parmesan cheese is required. If you do not have real Parmesan (whether already shredded or in a wedge), them simply omit. If the price of Parmesan is offensive (approximately $4 for a wedge at Target), I assure you that not only is it worth the investment, but a little bit goes a long way. One wedge of Parmesan lasts us a couple months, and this includes recipes and snacking. Whatever you decide, please do not use the powdered parmesan cheese that comes in a green canister, often found in the spaghetti isle.
** Most recipes say to stir using long strokes. I always stir making small circles all over the pan. I can’t say for sure that either method works better than the other, but the key is to stir often, if not continuously.
Some notes on pesto…
Pesto is expensive for one big reason and one little reason. The little reason is Parmesan cheese. As mentioned above, real Parmesan cheese can get expensive. A little bit goes a long way in our house, but this recipe is far from frugal if an entire cup of cheese is used. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any substitutions for this cheese in pesto.
The big reason pesto is expensive is the pine nuts. A quick glance on Amazon shows pine nuts ringing up at over $16 per pound! Substitutions can be made for the nuts – almonds, walnuts, even cashew – but the taste will be slightly different in the end. If you attempt to substitute the cheese (despite the fair warning) and nuts, you’ll end up with an entirely different product. It may not taste bad, but it will not be pesto.
I’m including a recipe if you choose to make your own; however, this is a case where buying it pre-made may work in your favor. You can not only skip the work (which is always a treat), but you avoid the hefty price tag. Most store-bought versions don’t contain anything fake, but always read the labels. Costco offers 22oz of the good stuff for $7.99 and it will last WAY beyond this risotto and the rest of Arborio rice. Consider a chicken pesto Panini, a cheese steak with provolone and pesto, or even atop your favorite pasta if you need other avenues to enjoy the goodness (or just invite me over for dinner and I’ll gladly take it off your hands).
(from Joy of Cooking, makes enough for one pound of pasta)
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine the first four ingredients in a food processor until they have made a rough paste. With the machine running, slowly add the oil. Salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce seems dry (it should be a thick paste), add a bit more oil.
When I made this for our impromptu dinner with friends and family, my chef-dad, gourmet step-mom, and talented-in-the-kitchen friend all raved about this dish. There was only one small scoop left – literally – and that tiny scoop was gently placed next to piece of chicken for someone to enjoy the next day for leftovers. As it turns out, that someone was me. Good thing too since I forgot to take a picture of it when it was hot off the stove! Guaranteed to taste just as good for leftovers too!