October 6, 2010

Creamy Saffron Risotto with Chicken, Asparagus & Peas

A simple and warming risotto for these first cold days of Fall. It's been rainy, windy, and chilly for over a week straight. Nothing breaks that like a big creamy bowl of rice, deeply flavored with saffron and chicken broth, and hiding big hunks of grilled chicken and crisp veggies among every bite.

This risotto is untraditional because it's made with brown rice instead of arborio, the short and rounded grain that is usually called for to create risotto's creamy texture. The dish sacrifices no discernible amount of richness, all while having all the health benefits of brown rice. It's a one-pot meal that's fit for a weekend or weeknight alike, and is wonderful when filled to the brim of a big bowl as a main course. The chicken can be substituted with sauteed shrimp or scallops stirred in at the very end of the cooking, as well, and the protein can also be omitted altogether if it's being served as a side dish.

However you eat it, it pairs really well with a briskly cool, dark evening and a big glass of your favorite wine. So settle in, pick up your spoon, and prepare to be comforted.

Brown Rice Saffron Risotto: serves 2
For the chicken:
1 large or 2 small boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 T. olive oil
salt & pepper

For the rice:
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 cup chopped Spanish onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 small tubed package of Saffron rice (found in rice aisle of most grocery stores)
1.5 cups warmed chicken or vegetable stock (for vegetarian use veggie stock and omit chicken)
1/2 cup of frozen asparagus stalks, thawed and cut into 1" pieces (heads intact)
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 T. lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

First, start the rice. In a large saucepan or skillet heat the olive oil and butter together until melted, then add the onion. Cook 4-5 minutes until tender, then add the garlic and brown rice, stirring for a minute to cook the garlic and gently toast the rice.  Pour in the chicken stock in small amounts, stirring every few minutes and adding more stock as it becomes absorbed by the rice. After 10 minutes, add the saffron rice (the two have different cooking times). You will continue adding the stock over the next 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 T. oil. Salt and pepper the chicken breast and add to the pan. Cook until gently browned on the outside and the juices run clear on the inside. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and cut into small pieces for the risotto. Pour a bit of chicken stock into the pan and stir up the flavorful bits (deglaze), and pour this into the rice.

When the rice is almost cooked to a tender but al-dente bite, stir in the asparagus, peas, chicken, lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Add more stock and water as needed, then stir in the parmesan cheese, salt & pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

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