A few months ago I attended a very fun demonstration by New York Times columnist and cookbook veteran Melissa Clark at The Brooklyn Kitchen. If you’re paying any attention to best-of-the-year round-ups right now, you’re probably aware that her new book Cook This Now is popping up at the top of many of them. After I got my copy and returned home that Friday night after her demo—and this is going to give you a good picture of my bustling social life—I plopped down on my sofa and read the whole thing cover to cover. In all honestly, this actually does describe a perfect Friday night in my mind. But Cook This Now is the type of cookbook that will inspire such behavior in anyone who likes cookbooks. You’ll want to sit back and read it. And then get up and cook from it.
Her Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon is the first thing I made. What got me really excited about this recipe, aside from the excellent result, is the technique of grating the squash. Not roasting it, not boiling and pureeing it; grating it, and then putting the grated squash right into the same pan that the risotto goes into. This simplifies butternut squash risotto in a huge way, and then the squash breaks down a bit so as to meld into risotto appealingly. It’s a marvelous way to streamline a recipe, and it’s a perfect representation of what kinds of new tricks and ideas that the book is full of.
When a bag of parsnips came with my last CSA pickup, I decided to use the same approach and make Parsnip Risotto. They don’t “dissolve” into the risotto in the same way that the squash does, but they cook until perfectly tender, making for a very unexpected and nicely textured risotto. To me, parsnips have a fleeting flavor—one moment they’re bitter, the next they’re candy sweet. They’re all over the farmers markets right now, so it’s worth giving them a shot if you’ve never cooked with them before.
And if you’ve never made risotto, the most useful trick I can offer—a trick I learned in Paris, from an Italian, who is now one of the brains behind the restaurant The Fat Hen in Seattle—is to never let the pan dry up. Contrary to what I’d understood at the time, you do not wait for the rice to absorb all the liquid before adding more. Instead, there should always be a bit of liquid bubbling in the bottom of the pot, which results in a loose, luxurious consistency, rather than a clompy, gluey one.
Parsnip Risotto with Spinach
A few more notes: With risotto, I really recommend using a light vegetable stock. If what you have on hand is very strong (and many canned and bullion versions are), dilute it, or just use salted water. And know that I don’t call for using a food processor unless I really think it’s worth it (I hate cleaning that thing). Using the grating attachment makes for longer, thicker strands than if you use a box grater, and in this recipe that’s a big plus. But if the box grater is all you have, then by all means use it.
Adapted very loosely from Cook This Now
Serves 4 or 5
About 6 cups light vegetable stock (see note above)
1 pound parsnips, scrubbed clean
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine, divided
5 ounces baby spinach
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage, plus additional for garnish
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Put the stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover until ready to use, so that it doesn’t cook down at all.
2. Trim the ends off the parsnips then chop in half or thirds, so that they’ll just fit, long-side-down, through the opening of a food processor. Fit your food processor with the grating attachment, then grate the parsnips.
3. Heat the oil in a wide, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the parsnips and the garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant, another minute or two. Add the rice and stir until it smells toasty and the rice is well coated in the oil, about a minute. (It will seem like there are too many vegetables in the pan, but don’t worry about it.) Pour in 1/4 cup of the wine and stir for a second—it will quickly disappear—then add a few ladlefuls of the hot stock. You’ll need to stir frequently. As the rice absorbs the stock, add another ladleful or two of the stock. Don’t wait for the pan to completely dry up; try to maintain a loose consistency, with some liquid bubbling on the bottom. Continue stirring, adding stock as the rice absorbs it, for about 15 minutes. Begin tasting the risotto, both for doneness and for salt.
4. Once the rice seems very close to being done, stir in the spinach, the sage, and another ladleful of stock. Continue stirring, adding a bit more stock if necessary, until the rice tastes mostly done. Then stir in the remaining wine, several grinds of black pepper, and the cheese, if using. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 5 minutes. Before serving, taste again for salt and pepper, and add a few drops of lemon juice if the flavors are flat. Serve immediately, garnishing with a few slivers of julienned sage and passing additional cheese at the table.