Fresh spring risotto features beautiful flavors

springrisotto052814Every once in a while, I just want risotto. My favorite thing to do with this creamy rice dish is to add shredded cheese and a bit of white truffle oil. Though it takes a bit of time to make, it’s easy and delicious. I always make more than I need so I have leftovers.

The inspiration for this particular flavor combination came from dinner at a Seattle restaurant. They were able to make their risotto light by using fresh citrus and asparagus. It was a nice change from my usual flavor combination. At home, I decided to add basil to my version, and it was the best addition I could have made. That fresh basil flavor really complemented the rest of the dish. If you do garnish with truffle oil, do so sparingly because the flavor is really strong. A few drops will do.

Ingredients
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups chicken broth
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound of frozen peas, cooked
Two small lemons
1/2 teaspoon salt
White truffle oil (optional)
Fresh basil leaves

Sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat until onion becomes translucent.

Add rice and stir for about two minutes.

Stir in 1 cup of broth. Cook and stir until broth is absorbed. Stir in the rest of the broth, one cup at a time, until each cup is absorbed.

Stir in peas, asparagus, lemon juice, and salt.

Garnish each serving with a few drops of truffle oil and a few leaves of fresh basil.

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Asparagus soup that will warm you up

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I’ve never done much with asparagus other than cook it on a stovetop or bake it. Since the weather has been freezing, I’ve been coming home to make dinners that will warm me up.

This cream of asparagus soup from Joy is a great way to use the vegetable. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and has a nice consistency — it has cream, but doesn’t become too thick. I didn’t have chicken broth, so I used bullion and water. It was saltier than I wanted it to be, so next time I’ll use less than 1 tablespoon of bullion per cup of water.

I garnished the first bowl with shredded Parmesan, but that wasn’t quite right. The bread cubes were a much better choice.

All in all, this was a nice soup that I will be making again because it don’t involve a lot of ingredients, nor does it take too long to make.

Ingredients
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups poultry stock, chicken broth or other light stock or broth
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream, half-and-half or milk
Salt
White or black pepper

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.

Add onions and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned.

Stir in asparagus. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the asparagus is very tender, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a food processor or an immersion blender, process until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in heavy cream. Heat through, but do not boil.

Add salt and pepper. Garnish with grated cheese such as cheddar or Parmesan, or add 1-inch cubes of bread.

Turn broccoli and cheese into a healthy soup

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After all those holiday sweets, I’ve been craving vegetable-loaded meals that are good for me. Broccoli is one of my go-to vegetables, but I usually just roast it or steam it. This time around, I was craving soup and decided to try my hand at broccoli-and-cheese soup.

One of my friends recommended the broccoli-and-cheese soup recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. I trust that publication, so I searched for the recipe and found the recipe from the March/April 2011 edition on another blogger’s site.

The baking soda in this recipe might seem unusual, but it speeds up the release of the broccoli’s sulfurous compounds, according to America’s Test Kitchen. Adding the cheese a bit at a time keeps it from becoming a gloppy mass in the soup. The spinach brightens the green color of the soup, too.

Overall, this recipe only took about 40 minutes from start to finish. It was a vegetable soup, but with a bit of saltiness and a slightly cheesy flavor. It was like an adult version of broccoli with cheese sauce that my mom used to serve. It was delicious.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces; stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-in thick slices
1 medium onion, rough chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups baby spinach
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3/4 Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Ground black pepper

Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 6 minutes.

Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.

Add broth and 2 cups water; increase heat to medium-high. When mixture begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute (the spinach will give the soup a bright green color).

Add cheese a handful at a time, allowing each handful to melt before adding more.

Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can also process in a food processor or a blender.

Return soup to Dutch oven, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with up to 1 cup water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Apple-based soup is a refreshing change

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This soup isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill soup. It isn’t loaded with cheese, it’s not mellow like the butternut squash soup recipe I posted a few weeks ago, and it’s definitely more tart than the white bean-and-rosemary soup I made earlier this year.

While I usually tend to favor more mellow flavors for soups, the tartness in this Hungarian Apple Soup was a refreshing surprise. When I was preparing it, I thought the potato would cancel out the apple flavor, but that flavor was first and foremost in the end. It was a pleasant surprise.

I doubled the recipe because I had two apples I needed to use, but you can visit the original recipe if you only want to make three cups of soup.

If you’re looking for a soup that will awaken your tastebuds as we head into winter, this is it.

Next week I’ll begin my cookie countdown to Christmas. Get ready for some new favorites with great flavor.

Ingredients
1 1/3 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups diced peeled Yukon Gold potato
2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery, plus leaves for garnish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
Pinch of paprika, preferably hot Hungarian
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add apple, potato, onion and celery; cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, sage, paprika and pepper; cook for 30 seconds. Pour in broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and gently simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a large blender or food processor, add sour cream and process until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Garnish with celery leaves, if desired.

Sweet squash soup for cold nights

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Lake Tahoe got a light dusting of snow at lake level last week. Night temperatures are dipping into the high 20s and I’m thinking about turning my heater on for the first time since May.

My thoughts have turned to warm meals that are easy to put together. I made this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup to keep me warm last week. I cut the recipe in half — but used the same amount of apple, onion and cream — because I only had one squash. It still made enough soup for four meals.

I’ve used Granny Smith apples in soups before, and they lend a certain tartness to them. This time I used a Fuji apple because it’s all I had. I liked the mellower flavor and feel that a Granny Smith apple would have made the soup more tart than I wanted it to be. The soup is sweeter and thicker than many other kinds of soup, but I liked that.

If you roast the squash ahead of time, this soup can be made quickly on a weeknight, when most people tend to look for meals that are easy to make after a day of work. I enjoyed it with a slice of sourdough bread and a spoonful of sour cream.

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium Granny Smith or Fuji apple
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage or 4 fresh sage leaves
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Dash of black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
Sour cream

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves (alternatively, you can rub it on evenly with your fingers). Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until knife tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and dice the apple. Dice the onion. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, onion and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

When the squash is ready, set the baking sheet on a wire rack until the squash is cool enough to handle. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into the saucepan with the sautéed apples and onions; discard the skins.

Add the broth, water, and measured salt and pepper, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash, until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.

Using an immersion blender or regular blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. If using a regular blender, remove the small cap from the lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the lid from popping off). Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve garnished with the sour cream, if using.