New World Risotto

The risotto lovers of the world fall into two camps, the traditionalists, who won’t call anything a risotto unless it uses exclusively carnaroli rice, just barely simmering chicken stock and is always stirred in a clockwise direction, and everybody else. Falling squarely on the “everybody else” side, this risotto incorporates foods indigenous to the Americas, including peppers, pumpkin seeds and quinoa. Obviously, I prefer to be a bit loose with my risotto, and let those creative juices flow. 

The original intent of this recipe was to come up with a risotto that is high in protein so that I could eat it as a main course and not feel guilty. Quinoa, being the highest in protein of any grain, was my solution. But quinoa on it’s own would not make a creamy, rice-y base for my toppings, so it’s a good thing it cooks in the same amount of time as arborio rice, because I just mixed them together. Voila!  Creamy risotto with a protein punch. 

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is an ancient grain originally grown in South America. It’s actually a seed, but it’s grouped in the grain category because of how it is cooked. Quinoa is small, round, and has a little curly-que on the inside that can be seen when it cooks up and becomes translucent. I love it because it has the nutritional profile of a whole grain (read more about that in my Whole Grains post) and it cooks in about half the time of brown rice. It’s also much lighter, and feels great in the tummy in the spring and summer.

Aside from the quinoa, there are more reasons for the traditional risotto-ists to scowl at me. For one, I don’t use onions, shallots or garlic in the rice. I found that the sauce is so amazing and flavorful that it doesn’t need it. Speaking of the sauce, it does call for 1 small clove of garlic. Please fight the urge to add more in this recipe because it is raw and very strong. But go ahead and double the sauce recipe, because it makes everything taste better.

You could definitely roast your own peppers for this, especially in the summer when bell peppers are plentiful and inexpensive, but to make this a super quick weeknight meal, I usually just open a jar. It’s one of the few jarred things I keep around – mostly because I haven’t yet perfected the art of peeling a roasted pepper. 

New World Risotto

1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
3/4 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
3/4 c. arborio (or other risotto rice) NOT rinsed
4-6 c. vegetable broth, chicken stock or water (I used water)
1/4 c. creme fraiche
2/3 c. pumpkin seeds
4 roasted red peppers (either from a jar or roast them yourself)
1 small garlic clove, chopped
juice of half a lemon

Heat the oil in a large saute pan or sauce pan over medium heat. Add the quinoa, rice and 1/2 tsp. of the salt (if using water), and stir to coat. Stir around for a few minutes until the grains start to turn a bit translucent around the edges. Ladle in about a 1/2 c. of liquid, bring to a simmer, and stir until almost gone, then add another ladle of liquid. Keep stirring, adding liquid and letting it absorb and cook off, until the rice is tender, with just a tiny bit of bite in the very center. Stir in the creme fraiche.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Toast the seeds by adding them to a dry skillet over medium heat. Toss and stir occasionally until they get a bit brown. Set aside 1/4 cup for garnish and toss the rest in a blender or food processor with the peppers, garlic, lemon juice, and the other 1/2 tsp. of salt. Blend until smooth, though the seeds will still make the sauce a bit grainy.

Serve the sauce over the rice, sprinkled with a few pumpkin seeds.

serves 4

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