How do you feel about risotto? I know it is a stereotypical vegetarian meal, so often the only veggie option on a menu. As a result, I’ve eaten a lot of unimpressive risottos. You know the type. A generic mushroom or butternut squash risotto that was actually designed to sit under a slab of meat, so carries a very uniform flavor and texture. Great as a side dish, a little boring as a main meal, sometimes even a little nauseating if it’s drenched in cream.
For this reason, I know a lot of vegetarians who are just so over risotto.
I say we need to re-examine this dish. A good, well made vegetarian risotto is an absolute delight. It can be so much fun to plate up a risotto with layers of flavor and texture.
This simple pea risotto is topped with roasted asparagus and drenched in pesto sauce, so you have the contrast of the creamy rice, the zingy pesto, and the chewy asparagus keeping life interesting for you.
And it’s very inclusive: no gluten, no dairy. That’s right- no cream. I just don’t think it needs to be there. Risotto rice is amazing! When you stir it a few times the starch seeps out and creates this wonderful sticky, creamy texture. Adding cream can make it a little more soupy, but that isn’t what we want here because we already have a very liquid pesto sauce on top. So let’s keep it a little more dense and sticky.
You could also use jasmine rice, which carries a nice flavor and goes fairly sticky when cooked this way.
The risotto itself is kept very plain, except for the addition of a head of roasted garlic which is stirred in at the end. This adds a little something, without overpowering it.
Since this is a vegan recipe, you will note that the pesto sauce doesn’t contain any cheese. Add some if you like, but again, I don’t think it needs it. I like to keep the basil and lemon flavors center stage here.
The risotto is summer friendly not just because of the vegetables used, but because it’s oven baked- no elbow grease! While Mr. Veggie is a pro at the traditional, but labor intensive, stovetop method of risotto making, I have only ever attempted the easier oven baking and slow cooker methods. It means that risottos are a little more achievable for a weeknight meal. Everything involved with this meal just goes in the oven. First you’ll put the garlic in, then the risotto, then the asparagus. You’ll take out the garlic and mix it into the risotto, then place the asparagus on top. While everything is cooking, you will make your pesto.
The timing is important in this recipe, because everything needs to be in the oven for a slightly different amount of time, so read over the full instructions first, and you should be fine to take it from there… Also, remember that your oven may differ from mine and you may need to adjust some of the timings.
- 1 cup of arborio rice (230g)
- 2 tsps of extra virgin olive oil
- 500ml / 2 cups of vegetable stock + the same amount in reserve
- 1 cup of peas
- Approx. 8 spears of asparagus
- 1 Tblsp each of olive oil
- 1 Tblsp of balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup (8 Tblsps) pine nuts
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- A few handfuls of fresh basil
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 355F.
- Slice through the entire top of the head of garlic, so that each clove is uncovered on the tip. Brush on some olive oil to the exposed cloves, wrap in aluminum foil and place on the top shelf of the oven.
- Pour the rice, olive oil and first 500ml of vegetable stock into a medium sized deep oven dish, and place in middle of the oven.
- Now prep the asparagus by removing the last 1-2 inches of the stalk. Lay onto a baking tray and drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar, and liberal sprinklings of salt and pepper. Set aside- it's not going in the oven just yet.
- Now is a good time to make the pesto. In a mini food processor or blender, pulse the nuts, basil, garlic and lemon juice until finely ground before adding a stream of olive oil until you achieve the consistency you prefer.
- Once the risotto and asparagus have been cooking for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and stir vigorously for a few minutes. This will allow the rice to start releasing starch and getting creamy.
- Place the risotto back in the oven and now add the asparagus to the top shelf alongside the garlic.
- After another 10 minutes, remove the risotto, stir again, mix in the peas and about another cup of vegetable stock. Replace in the oven.
- Wait another 15 minutes before removing the garlic. Quickly remove from the foil and place to one side so it can start cooling down.
- The risotto might be ready now. Give it a stir and taste it. If the rice is not cooked enough, add more stock and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Repeat until it's done and keep checking on the asparagus (if it's ready before the risotto is, just move it to the very bottom of the oven to keep warm) Once ready, you can take it out of the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes while the garlic cools down. It will continue to absorb liquid so if it's looking dry at this point, stir in some additional stock.
- Once the garlic has cooled down, squeeze the caramelized cloves over the risotto and stir through.
- At this point the asparagus should also be ready if it wasn't already. Remove from the oven and place on top of the risotto, before drizzling the pesto on top.
- Bon appetit!