How do you feel about risotto? I know it is a stereotypical vegetarian meal, so often the only veggie option on a menu. As a result, I’ve eaten a lot of unimpressive risottos. You know the type. A generic mushroom or butternut squash risotto that was actually designed to sit under a slab of meat, so carries a very uniform flavor and texture. Great as a side dish, a little boring as a main meal, sometimes even a little nauseating if it’s drenched in cream.
For this reason, I know a lot of vegetarians who are just so over risotto.
I say we need to re-examine this dish. A good, well made vegetarian risotto is an absolute delight. It can be so much fun to plate up a risotto with layers of flavor and texture.
This simple pea risotto is topped with roasted asparagus and drenched in pesto sauce, so you have the contrast of the creamy rice, the zingy pesto, and the chewy asparagus keeping life interesting for you.
And it’s very inclusive: no gluten, no dairy. That’s right- no cream. I just don’t think it needs to be there. Risotto rice is amazing! When you stir it a few times the starch seeps out and creates this wonderful sticky, creamy texture. Adding cream can make it a little more soupy, but that isn’t what we want here because we already have a very liquid pesto sauce on top. So let’s keep it a little more dense and sticky.
You could also use jasmine rice, which carries a nice flavor and goes fairly sticky when cooked this way.
The risotto itself is kept very plain, except for the addition of a head of roasted garlic which is stirred in at the end. This adds a little something, without overpowering it.
Since this is a vegan recipe, you will note that the pesto sauce doesn’t contain any cheese. Add some if you like, but again, I don’t think it needs it. I like to keep the basil and lemon flavors center stage here.
The risotto is summer friendly not just because of the vegetables used, but because it’s oven baked- no elbow grease! While Mr. Veggie is a pro at the traditional, but labor intensive, stovetop method of risotto making, I have only ever attempted the easier oven baking and slow cooker methods. It means that risottos are a little more achievable for a weeknight meal. Everything involved with this meal just goes in the oven. First you’ll put the garlic in, then the risotto, then the asparagus. You’ll take out the garlic and mix it into the risotto, then place the asparagus on top. While everything is cooking, you will make your pesto.
The timing is important in this recipe, because everything needs to be in the oven for a slightly different amount of time, so read over the full instructions first, and you should be fine to take it from there… Also, remember that your oven may differ from mine and you may need to adjust some of the timings.