The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy for me, and the following few weeks will be, too. Not too busy time-wise, but event/plans wise. Work, volunteering, going to the beach, normal stuff, and now classes, which also have homework. Yes, my cooking classes have begun! I guess I’m officially a student again, but I don’t feel like a student, so I’m not identifying as it. I’m still up for any and all student discounts, though, and my community college ID has no expiration date, so I suppose that I can use it forever. Hooray for a perpetual JCrew discount.
I really want to tell you about cooking school, though, because honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from my Culinary Skills 1 course. Since you’re likely at least a little into food, you might be curious, too. First off, the courses that I’ll take for my certificate program, although their price tag is about 1/15 of tuition of Le Cordon Bleu or a similar school, seem to contain the exact same content and quality of content as the more expensive and well-known options; however, my classes for this semester are twice a week for eight weeks, the program lasting about a year, whereas the more expensive options are often every day for 3 or 6 months.
I read a book about a writer’s experience at Le Cordon Bleu, and they begin the day with a demonstration by the instructor and then are required to recreate the dishes on their own. We start the day with a brief lecture on some food topic, and then we change into our chef outfits (costumes? Uniforms is probably the right term.) and begin the “lab” by practicing knife cuts. After the cutting is a demonstration, and then we copy the instructor.
So far, class hasn’t been difficult. No one’s been yelled at or insulted (the author of the book that I mentioned had a couple of meltdowns in response to the chef at LCB), and no one seems too concerned about cutting 7 perfect and equal sides when they tournée potatoes. I have a very, very strong feeling that all of these things will come in the not so distant future, but they haven’t happened yet. Mind you, it is only the second week of class. Overall, I’m quite pleased, having a great time and learning how to be a better cook.
And although I’m kind of busy, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have 30 minutes to stir some risotto. Risotto is really good, and the stirring and this risotto are for another asparagus recipe! I get excited about asparagus recipes, and asparagus generally, and hopefully you do to. If you don’t, though, this is a recipe where you can definitely leave it out. Then, you’ll have shiitake risotto with peas, not shiitake and asparagus risotto with peas. That’s a pretty long name, so I’m going to call it “spring risotto.”
This spring risotto is creamy, fresh, and rich with shiitake flavor (which I think is the mushroom with the best flavor); the asparagus brings a little snap while the peas give it a little pop, and a handful of Parmesan imparts a bit more decadence. It’s a two pot dish, and it makes the perfect dinner on any warm spring night.
Note: A lot of people on the Internet seem to think that leftover risotto is a no-go. I think it’s fine. Do whatever you want, though, but please don’t throw away leftover food. The leftovers are best heated in a microwave. However, this is so good that you might not even have any.
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), tough ends snapped off and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 ½ teaspoons unsalted butter
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced about ¼ inch thick
½ medium onion, diced small (about ½ cup)
1 ½ cup arborio rice
½ cup white wine
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup Parmesan, grated finely
1. In a medium to large saucepan, heat the chicken broth and water until boiling. Blanch the asparagus in boiling liquid until crisp-tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, immediately transferring to a bowl filled with ice water. Strain the asparagus, pat dry with a paper towel, and set aside. Turn the heat down to low, and cover the broth with a lid. Maintain a simmer.
2. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to another dish, and set aside.
3, In the same large saucepan used for the mushrooms, melt the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Add the diced onions, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice to the pot, and stir until all of the butter is absorbed. Mix in the wine, and stir until it has been absorbed as well, about 90 seconds.
4, Begin adding the simmering broth to the rice, ½ cup at a time, continuously stirring. Once the rice has absorbed the first ½ cup of broth, add another ½ cup. Continue to do this for 15 minutes. The rice will begin to swell and the risotto will slowly thicken and become creamy.
5, Mix the peas into the risotto, and continue to add ½ cup broth at a time for 10 more minutes. Once the risotto is sufficiently creamy looking, remove it from the heat. Stir in the asparagus, mushrooms and Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot with a lid for 1 to 2 minutes to ensure that the cheese is melted and the added vegetables are warmed, and heap large servings into bowls. Sprinkle with some extra grated Parmesan.