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Russ Parsons is the editor of the LA Times Food section and the author of How to Pick a Peach.

Simple Risotto
Serves 4 to 6
From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything   

2 Tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil, to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
1 1/2 cups Arborio or other short- or medium-grain rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
4 to 6 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
2 to 4 Tablespoons softened butter or extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Put the 2 tablespoons butter or oil in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. (Allow the remaining butter to soften while you cook.)  When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and coated with butter or oil, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper, then the white wine.  Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

3. Use a ladle to begin adding the stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring after each addition.  When the stock is just about evaporated, add more.  The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry.  Keep the heat at medium to medium-high and stir frequently.

4. Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it; you want it to be tender but still with tiny bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage.  When it does, stir in the softened butter or oil (more is better, at least from the perspective of taste!) and at least 1/2 cup of Parmesan if you're using it.  Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan at the table if you like.

Vegetable Stew


Spring vegetable stew  - Photo Courtesy LA Times

Spring Vegetable Stew

Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 lbs baby or medium artichokes
1 cup shelled fava beans (about 1 1/2 pounds in the pod)
2 lbs asparagus
1/2 lb bulbing onions
1/4 cup butter ( 1/2 stick), divided
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup water
2 tsps minced tarragon
Herbed ricotta gnocchi (recipe)
Grated Parmigiano- Reggiano

1. Clean the artichokes: Fill a large bowl with cool water and add the lemon juice. Trim away each artichoke's tough outer leaves, then cut off the top half-inch of the tip and peel the base and stem. Quarter the baby artichokes and cut the larger artichokes lengthwise into 8 pieces. Keep the artichokes submerged in the lemon water to prevent browning and set aside.

2. Place the shelled fava beans in a large bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand until the water is cool enough to touch. Use your thumbnail to cut a slit in the thin membrane surrounding each fava and squeeze the bright green bean halves into a bowl. Discard the membranes. Repeat with all the favas and set aside.

3. Cut the tough bases and tender tips from the asparagus and reserve the tips (discard the bases). Peel the asparagus and cut crosswise into 1-inch sections.

4. Trim the roots and most of the green stems of the bulbing onions and halve them lengthwise.

5. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Cook until the shallots soften, about 3 minutes. Add the artichokes, the white wine and water, cover tightly and cook until the artichokes are just tender enough to pierce with a paring knife, 5 to 15 minutes (the time will vary depending on the freshness and type of the artichoke).

6. Add the chopped asparagus stalks, replace the cover and cook until they are tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the bulbing onions, the asparagus tips and the tarragon and cook until the tips are bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and reduce the heat to low to keep warm.

7. Bring a wide pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Reduce the heat to a slow boil and add the gnocchi to the pot (reducing the heat helps keep the gnocchi from breaking up). Stir gently to lift them from the bottom of the pot and cook until they float to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes, then cook them an additional 20 to 30 seconds and retrieve them with a strainer, transferring them directly to the vegetable stew.

8. Increase the heat under the stew to high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir gently to coat the gnocchi with the glaze and divide among 6 heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano over the top and pass more at the table. Serve immediately.

Evan's Cianfotta

1/2 - 1 cup olive oil (depending on how luscious you want the result and how many of the ingredients you choose to use)
1 white of leek, sliced and washed, tops reserved for soup
2 garlic cloves or 4-6 fresh garlic cloves or 1 stalk green garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 bunch pencil thin asparagus, tough stems cut off and discarded, stalks cut into 1 ½ inch pices
1/4 lb sugar snap peas, stem end and string removed, each pod sliced vertically so the peas inside are exposed
1/2 lb english peas, shelled
1/4 lb young fava beans shelled (twice if you want)
1 small head romaine lettuce, cut into a chiffonade
1/4 lb baby artichokes, cleaned and cut into 1/4s vertically.
Spearmint leaves to taste, at least 15
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium to large skillet cook the leek slices in oil over medium high heat.  When the leeks have started to soften add the garlic and cook until you smell the characteristic aroma.  Turn the heat up to high and add the asparagus, sugar snaps and mint.  Move everything around so there is maximum contact of veggies with heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook to your liking.  I like this dish when the aspaagus and sugar snaps no longer have that raw edge but are still “al dente”.  Take the veggies off the heat and put them in a bowl or on a plate before they are actually completely done.  They will continue to cook off the heat.

Eat hot, room temp, or cold as is or add to pasta or risotto.


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