Spring is finally here, and spring produce is already showing up in markets. Although there are joys year-round of eating seasonally, there's something about spring produce that fits the season so well. It's so green, so vibrant, so alive, after months of eating imported off-season produce and dried and canned goods during the winter.
I find risotto to be a particularly good vehicle for showing off spring produce, and I find I make the traditional dish of rice cooked in broth with vegetables and cheese most frequently from March to June.
I've shared several variations of pasta primavera, "primavera" meaning "spring" in Italian, usually denoting a dish made with seasonal spring vegetables like asparagus, peas and greens. The vegetables in this dish most closely resemble what I used in my first Pasta Primavera recipe, which was inspired by the primavera recipe in The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.
I treat the vegetables in different ways here. Most of them--the red pepper, broccoli, carrot and squash--are roasted in the oven until lightly browned around the edges. The onion is sautéed and cooked with the rice and the sugar snap peas are lightly blanched in the broth. Everything is combined in the end with a generous helping of finely grated pecorino-romano, the hard-cheese alternative to parmigiano-reggiano that's perfect for spring dishes.
Roasted Vegetable Risotto Primavera
Note: Carnaroli rice is an Italian rice similar to arborio. Both are popular choices for risotto. Carnaroli rice has a higher starch content than arborio rice, is a bit longer and has a firmer texture.
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets (about 1-inch across)
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth (you can use a mixture and low-sodium or standard depending on your taste preference; for this dish I used 4 cups vegetable broth and 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth; if you use only vegetable broth, the dish will be vegetarian)
8 oz. sugar snap peas, peas larger than 1 inch cut in half
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups carnaroli rice (may substitute arborio rice, see note above)
3/4 cup dry white wine (sauvignon blanc recommended)
2 oz. grated pecorino-romano cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (recommend a generous "dash")
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. freshly chopped dill
2 tbsp. freshly chopped chives
1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Combine red pepper, broccoli, squash and carrot in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tbsp. of olive oil and salt and toss to coat. Spread vegetables in an even layer on baking sheet (line with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) and roast for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Stir the vegetables and continue roasting another 10 minutes until most vegetables are browned around the edges. Set aside while you make the risotto.
3. Heat vegetable broth in a large saucepan until boiling. Add the sugar snap peas and cook for 2-3 minutes until crisp-tender. Remove peas with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the heat under the broth to the lowest setting.
4. Heat remaining tbsp. of olive oil and butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, about 3-4 minutes. Add wine and stir to combine. Cook until the wine is absorbed by the rice (when running a spoon across the bottom of the pot leaves a dry space). Add 2 cups of chicken broth, stir to combine, and simmer over medium heat until the broth is absorbed. Then, continue adding broth by 1/2 cupfuls, stirring to combine, stirring occasionally as the mixture cooks and waiting between additions until the previous addition is absorbed by the rice. In total, this should take about 20-25 minutes. Taste the rice once about 5 cups of broth are incorporated, as it may be done before all the broth is used. The rice should be "al dente"--that is, cooked through but still a bit chewy.
5. Stir in the roasted vegetables, blanched sugar snap peas, pecorino-romano cheese, nutmeg, pepper, dill and chives. Serve in shallow bowls.