Get all pesto with a ritzy risotto

Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto

Treat your vegetarian friends to a bright green dish that will not only fill their tummies with a healthy treat, it will lift their spirits with its lush color as it comforts the soul with its warm, cheesy texture

By Louise Crosby

Round about this time of year, with the winter chill setting in, it’s nice to get away, not necessarily to a warm, sunny beach, but somewhere with a different view. Not too long ago, I went with two friends to New York City and got a whole new world. As anyone who has spent time there will know, it is a noisy, exciting, inspiring and exhausting place. And the food is delicious if you find the right spots.

My friends are vegan fitness trainers whose idea of a perfect Sunday morning is to run a half-marathon or sprint up and down the CN Tower. So we typically left our hotel room in the morning and didn’t return until late at night, having walked at a fair clip the entire day to our various destinations. There was a moment each afternoon when I hit a wall, but after a little sit-down somewhere I was ready to go again. Remind me to take running shoes next time.

We stopped in at MoMA and later, at B&H, an enormous photography superstore, where I bought some lighting equipment (which I used for the first time to take this photo), and we spent an entire morning wandering around the incredible Italian food store Eataly. The Chelsea Market kept us busy for awhile. We feasted on Asian food at Spice Market and Amma and the Momofuku Noodle Bar, enjoyed a buffet brunch with live jazz at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, and took a breather with coffee and Swedish cardamom buns at the very cool Fika.

Discovering Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bakery at Rockefeller Plaza was a fun moment because I have the cookbook and because the bakery can sometimes be seen in the background on mornings when Matt Lauer and the NBC crew film the Today show there. As we made our way from one spot to the next, I saw the streets of Chelsea, the Meat Packing District, Gramercy, Soho, Greenwich Village, the East Village, the West Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Tribeca, at times from an elevated vantage point along the beautiful walking trail known as the High Line.

I picked up the latest issue of bon appetit magazine at La Guardia airport on our way home and immediately zeroed in on this easy Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto. Such a bright green in this grey and weather! So nutritious! Easy, healthy vegetarian comfort food, with cheese! Get thee to a stove as soon as possible and make this, it will remind you of spring.

There are advantages to this version of risotto. Water is called for instead of the usual chicken stock, and instead of standing at the stove stirring each time you add the liquid, the rice is cooked in the oven. Tuscan kale is also known as lacinato, cavalo nero, and black kale, and is quite widely available.

Oven Risotto with Kale Pesto
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped, divided
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 small garlic clove
1 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 cups torn Tuscan kale leaves, divided
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large ovenproof saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent, 5-8 minutes. Stir in rice; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until some grains are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups very hot water; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, and bake in oven until liquid is mostly absorbed but rice is still starchy in the centre, 15-18 minutes (it should be undercooked).
Meanwhile, pulse garlic and half of toasted walnuts in a food processor until very finely ground. Add parsley, chives, half of kale, remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, and ¼ cup cold water; process until smooth; season pesto with salt and pepper.
Set saucepan over medium heat. Add ¾ cup very hot water and cook rice, stirring constantly, until it is tender but still has some bite and sauce is creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in pesto, butter, three-quarters of Parmesan, and remaining kale. Adjust consistency with water, if needed; season with salt and pepper. Served topped with remaining walnuts and cheese.

Serves: 4


THE EX-PRESS, October 27, 2015


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