April 23rd, 2010

{recipe} Kale Risotto with Sweet & Smoky Pepitas. Think You Can’t? Think Again.

Sound fancy? Looks fancy, too, yea? Here’s the thing: it’s not. And that’s what I love about this recipe. Well, that, and how delicious it is. See, I’m a total sucker for meals that sound elegant, maybe even like they were hard to make, but are actually super easy.

I know there are a bunch of you who are with me on this. You, too, love making something that comes off as refined in the mere 30-40 minutes that you have to whip up dinner. But I also bet there are others who don’t believe me. Who think that there is no way kale risotto, much less kale risotto with sweet and smoky what’s?, can be easy. Right?

If you are in group A, you know the deal. Risotto takes about 18 minutes to cook. Kale is a simple, one-ingredient addition. The pepitas (aka pumpkin seeds) roast in about 7 minutes. Jump to the recipe and get cooking—this is a fun one. But, if you’re in group B, stick with me. I’m going to (try to) make you a believer.

Let’s demystify this dish, starting with risotto: it’s one of my quick go-to pantry meals because all you need to have is:

  • Oil
  • Onions
  • Aborio rice (available at most supermarkets; just look for the word “aborio,” you don’t need to know more than that)
  • Broth
  • Grated cheese (usually parmesan)
  • Salt and pepper

If you also have butter and wine, that’s great. My suggestion is that you make a point of having these ingredients on hand all the time. Once you get the hang of risotto, you’ll make it frequently: it’s quick, easy to make healthy and adapt for eaters of all ages and gives you a great base to build a last minute meal using whatever veg (or protein) you’ve got on hand.

The basic method for cooking risotto is always the same:

  • Sautee onions in oil
  • Add rice and stir until coated
  • If using, add wine and cook until absorbed
  • Add broth in rounds of small amounts, making sure that the previous round has been absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is cooked
  • Finish with salt, pepper and cheese, maybe some butter, too

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re doing this for the first time, you’re not likely to get perfect results. There is technique—mostly timing and knowing how frequently to stir. Traditionalists say constantly, while some argue that you don’t have to stir until your arm falls off. I’ve mastered a nice risotto perfect for home dinners without constant stirring. I simply can’t stir constantly with the kids around. But, I digress. And, if you’re just starting out, DO NOT BOTHER with this. Just know that you need to stir a lot, as much as you can in the approximately 18 minutes it will take to cook, and don’t expect perfection. The flavor will be there and the elegance will come.

What about kale? Just another dark, leafy green. It’s thick and tough like collards, but cooks down surprisingly fast. There are several kinds and they look different (eg, some have curly edged leaves while others have ones that are flat and bumpy). Don’t worry about that, not for this recipe. If the supermarket calls it “kale,” buy some.

Wash it thoroughly and remove the thick stem. I like to do this by holding the bottom of the stem with one hand and grabbing the leaves from the bottom with the other. Pull the leaves up the stem. Think of tearing a page from a notebook: the leaves should just tear right off of the toughest part of the stem. Another way is to run a knife along the stem and cut it out. Once you’ve de-stemmed the kale, you can chop it as you would any other green.

Now, the mysterious pepitas. (Or not-so-mysterious pumpkin seeds.) If you’re a beginner or insecure cook, there is no need to multi-task. Make these first and let them cool while you cook the risotto—it’ll only add 12 minutes or so to your cooking time. You’ll toss the pepitas with some oil and sugar and let them toast in the oven for a few short minutes. When they’re done (use your nose; they’ll smell toasty!), you’ll toss them with a mix of spices from your spice rack. That’s it.

I can’t say that I know how common pepitas are in supermarkets outside of the city. My hunch is that they may not be as easy to find as I’d like. First check the section where they sell nuts and seeds. If they are not there, check the international food section. If you can’t find them or you don’t have time to search, use sunflower seeds instead. Just up the amount of seeds (and seeds only; the other measurements can stay the same) to 2 cups.

Risotto is elegant for sure, but remember that it’s just cooked rice and all we’ve done is add some greens. And maybe you wouldn’t have thought up a sweet and smoky flavor combo. That’s okay, because I did (and that’s my job!). It’s nothing more than spices from the cupboard tossed on toasted seeds. You can make this meal. Just follow the directions and give yourself a break. And, anyway, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You spend 30 minutes making a gooey rice dish? There are worse things. And it will be better next time.

So, what do you think? Did walking you through the dish help or make you more scared?! Go ahead, tell us!

Sweet & Smoky Pepitas
(can be served to kids 12+ mos)*

1 c pepitas (or 2 c sunflower seeds)
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss pepitas with oil and 2 Tbsp sugar.

2. Bake for about 7 min, until fragrant and toasted. In the meantime, mix remaining sugar, salt, cumin and smoked paprika. When the pepitas come out of the oven, immediately toss with the spice mix. Allow to cool before serving. Can be stored in an airtight container for about a week.

*Note:Nuts and seeds are considered high allergen foods. Some recommend waiting to introduce them until after 12 mos, sometimes even longer. Alternatively, based on new research, some experts suggest that even high allergen foods can be introduced early, especially if there is no personal of family history of food allergies. Speak to your pediatrician about what’s right for your child.

Kale Risotto with Sweet & Smoky Pepitas
serves 3-4
(can be served to kids 8+ mos)*

1/4 c olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, cleaned & chopped
1 c aborio rice
1/4 c white wine (optional)
6-8 c broth (chicken or veggie)
1/2 c pecorino cheese
salt and pepper
sweet & smoky pepitas (see above)

1. Heat stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to lowest setting, keeping the broth hot but making sure that it doesn’t cook off.

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and kale. Saute until kale softens and turns bright green, another 3-4 minutes.

3. Add rice, stirring to make sure that all of the grains get coated with oil, and cook until rice begins to turn translucent, another 2 minutes.

4. Add wine. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed.

5. Begin adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly, waiting for each batch of broth to be about 3/4 absorbed before adding the next. (One way to tell if it’s time to add more broth: your spoon should leave a trail that holds for a moment as you drag it across the bottom of the pan.) Risotto is done when the rice is al dente—is should be cooked through but still be a little toothsome. You may not use all of the broth. In fact, towards the end of the cooking process—which should take about 18-20 minutes—start tasting along the way and adding broth in amounts less than a 1/2 cup.

6. Turn off heat. Stir in pecorino, salt and pepper and spiced pepitas (amount depends on you). Save a few pepitas for garnish on top.

*Note: If you are waiting to introduce or your child does not yet eat nuts or seeds, take their portion out before you stir in the pepitas. Grind or mash to appropriate consistency if feeding beginner eaters.

5 Responses

  1. DailyChef says:

    I’m glad you defined what pepitas were ;)

  2. katetie says:

    Yum… just the pepita’s by themselves would be great for a snack or nibbles!

  3. Yes– I love the way those pepitas sound. I’ve been looking for some ways to incorporate the bag I have with something other than granola.

  4. I love pepitas and this recipe sounds like such a wonderful mix of flavors.

  5. One Hungry Mama says:

    I love anything sweet and salty! I hope you get a chance to make these.

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