Spring risotto with lemon and goat’s cheese

Spring has definitely and finally taken hold here—more flowers are appearing in our garden every day, and the sunny afternoons are just wonderful. I’m still apprehensive of a late cold snap (Canberra seems to be so prone to these) but am doing my best to enjoy the season while I can.

Last night, to celebrate, I made a spring risotto. The timid but sweet flavours of the new season vegetables perfectly adorn the canvas of the risotto, and are lifted by the fragrant lemon zest. Lemon zest is one of my favourite ingredients, and I must confess I seem to use much more lemon zest than lemon juice, which has led to an abundance of white, denuded lemons looking so forlorn every time I open the refrigerator. I shall have to start drinking more gin and tonic, as this is a drink which almost requires a slice of lemon—even de-zested. (As an aside, I cannot praise enough the wonderful Microplane grater and its uses as a zester. Fine and sharp is the ticket, and ensure you only ever use the yellow part of the skin, well scrubbed. The white pith will only add bitterness.)

The risotto is finished with goat’s cheese. Something salty and creamy to contrast with the freshness, to complement its sweetness, to form a completed whole. I used the last of a beautiful organic ash-covered soft goat’s cheese from Capra that I bought a few months ago at the farmer’s markets. I know that sounds dodgy, but actually it’s been sitting safely in the freezer—did you know that you can safely freeze soft goat’s cheese without damaging the flavour or texture? Neither did I, until the Capra people told me. But I have tried it and it works.

Anyway, here’s how my risotto turned out. And now, on to the recipe.

spring risotto

Spring Risotto with Lemon and Goat’s Cheese

1.5 L vegetable stock

olive oil

1/2 a head of celery, diced

one medium brown onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely diced

400g arborio rice

250 mL white wine

one bunch asparagus

2 handfuls frozen shelled broad beans

half a bunch of chopped continental parsley

zest and juice of one lemon

a good knob of butter

a handful of grated parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

about 150g soft goat’s cheese

Put your stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan on a medium to low heat. Add the celery, onion and garlic and sweat gently with the lid on, without colouring, until soft and slightly translucent.

Bump up the heat on the vegetables to medium and add the rice. Keep stirring until it starts to crackle, don’t let it stick. Pour in the wine and allow it the rice to completely absorb it, then turn the heat back down to medium-low and add a few ladlefuls of the hot stock. Put the lid on the pan but keep it ajar, while you prepare the spring vegetables. Check the risotto frequently to ensure it’s not sticking, and add more stock as the rice absorbs it—you want it to stay fairly moist.

Blanch the broad beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes or until they float. Drain and rinse in cold water, then squeeze the soft green beans out of their tough skins, discarding the skins. Snap the woody ends off your asparagus and cut off the tips, reserving. Slice the asparagus at an angle into pieces about 0.7 cm thick.

When the rice is about 5 minutes away from cooked, add the sliced asparagus, half the lemon juice, and more stock if necessary. When the rice is almost done, add the asparagus tips and broad beans to warm through, and the lemon zest. At this stage you may need to top up the stock—a risotto should dollop, not be stodgy. Turn off the heat and add the parsley, butter, parmesan and a good helping of black pepper. Put the lid back on and let it all melt and ooze together for a minute or so, then taste and add more lemon juice, pepper, or some salt, whatever you think it needs. Serve topped with crumbled goat’s cheese. A mouthful of Spring!

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