Leek and Asparagus Risotto

My husband will tell you I am the most anxious when faced with an empty fridge.  Let me go grocery shopping, fill it up, and make a meal plan, and I suddenly feel like I can do life.  So the week before classes started, I changed my meal plan from a weekly meal plan based off the groceries I bought to a running categorical list based off the ingredients I already had on hand: 1. Meals I could throw together in about 10 minutes; 2. Meals I could make within 10-20 minutes; 3. Ready to go frozen meals; 4. Meals I could cook if I had some extra time and fresh ingredients.  I filled up a whole white board with my color-coded meal list, and suddenly felt like I could take on grad school.

Risotto is one of those meals that is homey and filling and warm and doesn’t take too long to pull together on one of those “extra time” days.  Add some fresh veggies, and your meal is set.


  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: medium, for time
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  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced, or grated with a medium ribbon grater
  • 1 asparagus bundle, trimmed and cut in thirds
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted sesame seeds, as garnish
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese (or nutritional yeast flakes)
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock


  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil, and saute the leeks with salt and pepper to taste on medium heat.  When the leeks are translucent, add the garlic and rice and saute 5-10 more minutes and lower the heat to low.
  2. Add 2-3 cups of vegetable stock, until the rice is just covered, and 1/4 cup of the parsley.  Allow to come to a boil, and let cook and reduce until nearly all the stock has reduced.  Add another 1-2 cups of stock and let cook and reduce.  Continue adding stock, one cup at a time, and reducing, until the rice has transformed into a creamy soft mixture, about 30-40 minutes.  When you add the final cup of stock, add the asparagus to gently cook.  Let the stock reduce just enough to be a thin, pudding-like mixture.
  3. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese or nutritional yeast flakes.  To serve, garnish with the rest of the parsley and the sesame seeds.



Mushrooms and Fungal Growths

Although I do not think of myself as a picky eater, the husband thinks I am.  There are things I’d prefer not to eat, but still do if served to me…and then there is that One Thing I try to avoid and definitely not eat if I can help it:  Mushrooms.  The husband loves all things earthy, so mushrooms are right up his alley.  I, however, can’t stomach the thought {literally and figuratively} of eating something defined as a “fungal growth”.  Check it out.  That’s what your dictionary calls those little things growing on the underside of decaying woodland logs and germinating in the dark, damp rural outback.

From a nutrition standpoint, I understand why those following a plant-based lifestyle would seek mushrooms out as “little gems” to add to their diet–they have B Vitamins and is the only item you’ll find along the produce aisle with its own store of Vitamin D.  Thepowerofmushrooms has a pretty great write-up, if you are interested in learning more nutritional facts and benefits about these little beasts.

Despite the nutrition, and fully due to being a fungus, I have no qualms passing up the little white buttons in the grocery store.  I will make an ingredient exception, however, when I come across a “gourmet fungus” I know the hubs would enjoy for dinner.  {Usually when I want to get something out of him…Oh man, now he knows my secret…}

So when I found a small box of golden Chantrelles, known for their beautiful hue and fruity and peppery flavor, I knew risotto was on the menu.  Mushrooms don’t require much in the way of cleaning–just get a damp paper towel and brush off the extra dirt.  Coming from its own habitat, any dirt left on there is clean dirt, right?  Give them a rough chop, sauté with onions, add the rice, and gently cook to make a silky and earthy mushroom risotto.  I even got the hubs to eat a side of broccolini with this dish.

{And what did I get out of it, you ask?  A Clearance Williams-Sonoma shopping spree}

mushroom risotto 1

mushroom risotto 2


  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: fairly easy
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  • 1 cup chantrelles, gently cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese {or nutritional yeast, to keep it vegan}
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Coat a medium-sized pot with olive oil and heat over medium.  Add the mushrooms and onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are soft-tender, about another 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the rice, stirring to coat, and add enough stock to just cover the rice.  Let come to a soft boil then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, and add more stock to just cover the rice.  Continue this adding-stock-and-simmering process until the rice is soft and comes together as a thickened mixture.
  3. Off heat, stir in the parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast and divide evenly among the serving bowls.  Garnish with toasted, chopped walnuts and parsley.




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{Recipe + Photo featured in LDS Living Sept/Oct 2016 Issue}

Are there any other Fall-o-philes out there?  Sweaters?  Boots?  Soup and biscuits for dinner?  Roasted winter squash?  Um, YES, please.  Did you know pumpkin is a winter squash?  I grew up thinking pumpkins served two purposes: for Halloween to carve into jack-o-lanterns, and then, of course, for Thanksgiving in the form of pie.  Other than that, pumpkins were pretty superfluous.

Well, my friends, I am taking pumpkin by the stem for the month of October!  We are going full-pumpkin-ahead to pumpkin-ize any and every pumpkin-o-phile meatless main dish.  To start our pumpkiny journey:  creamy Pumpkin Basil Risotto.  Risotto is a fantastic vehicle for any vegetable addition.  In this case?   A Cinderella Pumpkin!  Serve your Cinderella Pumpkin Basil Risotto to your Prince Charming and it’ll pretty much guarantee he’ll be at your beck and call if your glass slippers–or dishes–need cleaning.

pumpkin basil risotto ingredients

I’ve only ever bought “jack-o-lantern” pumpkins for carving, and so I thought I’d try a variety of different pumpkins for my October dishes.   I’ve also always thought all pumpkins–winter squash–had a hard shell of a skin.  Imagine my surprise when I cut into the Cinderella Pumpkin and it sliced like butter!  I sliced off the skin just like cantaloupe!  I also usually use a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the seeds, but a normal spoon worked just fine!

pumpkin basil risotto cinderella pumpkin

You know my rule:  Prep all your ingredients and cook time will fly!

pumpkin basil risotto ingredients ready

Risotto isn’t difficult to make, but it does take a little time and love.  I made a super large pot because I love turning my leftover risotto into arancini, but I did cut the recipe in half, reflected in the written recipe.  One cup of rice goes a long way!

Remember the time and love?  Risotto gets so creamy because you take time to cook the rice, adding just a little bit of stock at a time, developing and coaxing the starch from the rice.  You wait until the stock gets cooked down and absorbed by the rice…

pumpkin basil risotto cooking 1

…Then add a little stock to just cover the rice, and cook some more.  Blow a kiss.  Repeat.

pumpkin basil risotto cooking 2

The rice will transform into a soft and creamy, pudding-like mixture.  I thought maybe the pumpkin would break down into mush because it was so soft to cut, but it kept its shape and became this super smooth velvety texture that perfectly matched the creamy rice.  I did add parmesan cheese to mine (believe me, it’s totally worth the splurge to buy the real stuff instead of the powdered green bottle stuff), but if you want to keep it vegan, just substitute Nutritional Yeast Flakes.  Top with fresh basil and roasted, salted pumpkin seeds, and you’ve got yourself a gourmet dinner fit for royalty.

pumpkin basil risotto finished 2

pumpkin basil risotto finished 1


  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium-ish, just because of time expenditure
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  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 cups Cinderella pumpkin, diced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned, plus 2-3 more leaves (also julienned) for garnishing
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Parmeggiano-Regiano cheese
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock


  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil, and saute the onion with salt and pepper to taste on medium heat.  When the onion is translucent, add the rice and pumpkin and saute 5-10 more minutes and lower the heat to low.
  2. Add 2-3 cups of vegetable stock, until the rice is just covered, and 1/4 cup of julienned basil.  Allow to come to a boil, and let cook and reduce until nearly all the stock has reduced.  Add another 1-2 cups of stock and let cook and reduce.  Continue adding stock, one cup at a time, and reducing, until the rice has transformed into a creamy soft mixture, about 30-40 minutes.  When you add the final cup of stock, let it reduce just enough to be a thin, pudding-like mixture.
  3. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese or nutritional yeast flakes.  To serve, garnish with fresh julienned basil and roasted, salted pumpkin seeds.


The Best Croutons in the World

If I ever have leftover rice or risotto, it *always* gets turned into arancini (ah-ran-cheen-ee): fried Italian rice balls, crispy on the outside, creamy rice on the inside and a melty cheese surprise right in the middle.  And since I usually load up my risotto with veggies, they’re in the rice ball party, too.  Although this may be sacrilege for hardcore risotto foodies out there,  I prefer using leftover risotto because it’s already sort of sticky and gummy and holds its shape really well in ball form.  If you don’t have leftover risotto, you can use any leftover rice, or cook up some of your own.

arancini assembly


There’s a small time expenditure getting the rice balls ready along the assembly line (I always keep power tools at the end, just in case any of those arancini get a little rowdy), but it’s worth it, and once everything is ready, the frying only takes a few minutes.  For these particular arancini, I used leftover risotto with roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts.



Arancini are traditionally served with a side of marinara for dipping, but I have come to like serving them on top of a salad–they’re the best croutons in the world!  This salad was a pre-packaged kale salad with yogurt curry dressing I found in Costco.  I usually make at least a dozen or more at a time (if I’m heating up a whole pot of oil, I better make it worth its weight in gold!)–they freeze really well and reheat crisp-perfectly.


  • Servings: enough for a party
  • Difficulty: medium, for time expenditure with assembly
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This recipe is adapted from Kelly Senyei’s Arancini recipe.  Part of my adaptation is using leftover risotto, so this recipe reflects “leftovers”.  If you don’t have leftovers, cook up some rice to use–Kelly does a great job explaining which rice works best.


  • 4 cups leftover vegetable risotto
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 12-15 one-inch squares of cheese.  {I have used fresh mozzarella, “Babybel” circles cut in fourths, a bunch of muenster cheese sandwich slices stacked and cut–whatever I have on hand, and they’ve all worked out just fine}
  • For the assembly line, have a shallow dish ready with 4 beaten eggs, and another shallow dish ready with 2 cups panko breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon italian seasoning and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and a cookie sheet prepped with a sheet of parchment paper.  The arancini will rest here after forming into balls and before going to the fryer.


  1. Prepare a large pot with four inches of oil, place over medium heat.  Use a pot thermometer to ensure the oil reaches 375, not too hot or it will smoke and burn your arancini, and not too cool, or the arancini will be heavy and dense and full of oil, not light and crispy.
  2. Mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Assembly line:  I use a #40 cookie scoop (it measures to about 1.5 tablespoons), scoop one scoop of the rice mixture in your hand, place a square of cheese, then top with another scoop of rice and form into a ball.  Next, roll the rice ball in the beaten eggs until all sides are covered, and then roll around in the seasoned breadcrumbs.  Feel free to squeeze the rice ball in cupped hands to make sure it’s stable, and place on the parchment paper on the cookie sheet.  Continue forming the arancini until the rice mixture is gone.  Watch the oil while you are making the arancini so it doesn’t get too hot.  If the oil reaches 375 while you are still assembling, go ahead and start frying.  You’ll get the rhythm.
  4. Once the oil is ready, carefully drop 3-4 balls at a time in the oil to fry.  Roll them around in the oil using a slotted spoon or a wire-mesh spider, and pull out of the oil when they are golden brown, usually 3-4 minutes does the trick.  Have a cooling rack ready on the counter with paper towels under it to catch any dripping oil, and keep the arancini on the cooling rack–they’ll stay crispier there than a cookie sheet.
  5. Serve warm, with a salad (preferred!), or with a side of marinara.  Once they are completely cooled, you can put them in a gallon freezer bag, label with the date, and freeze for future devouring.