I love making dishes that I can add stuff to, like pancakes, yeasted breads, risottos, mashed potatoes… well I guess just about any home-cooked dish! It’s one thing I enjoy and am good at. I didn’t learn creativity in culinary school, since I didn’t attend any cooking school ever. It actually comes from being financially strapped and never wanting to waste anything. Got a carrot? Juice it and put it in a soup, grate it and put it in a meat loaf, purée it and add to potato mash… and so forth.
But also, since I grew up experiencing various cuisines, I figured out that it’s easy to be creative by turning any random dish into an inspired-by cuisine. Take a potato soup, for example. Add chorizo, chipotle, and fresh cilantro and you’ve got a Southwestern-inspired soup. Use ricotta in the potato soup and top it with a spoonful of basil pesto, and you’ve got an Italian-inspired soup. And so forth. Every week you can make a “different” potato soup!
So that’s how I have fun in my kitchen, when I’m not following specific recipes.
Which brings me to risotto. I was looking over old blog posts a while back, and I came upon my Paprika Cream Risotto. It’s just a “plain” risotto with the addition of paprika cream. Simple, yet fabulous. The photos could be updated, of course, but what caught my attention were my own notes on suggestions of seasonal risottos.
Spring: Lemony goat cheese risotto with salmon, peas, and basil
Summer: Tomato and tomatillo risotto with chorizo and cilantro
Fall: Brussels sprouts risotto topped with grilled sausages
Winter: Smoked gouda risotto topped with short ribs and pickled onions
Damn. Those are great ideas! The Italian purists wouldn’t appreciate these recipes, but I have no problem with this kind of inspired cooking. Especially when the outcome is so wonderful!
I decided to start with the spring version, cause it’s spring! Now, this combination isn’t unique for springtime flavors, but they are really good together! Begin with the salmon, then keep the filets warm while you prepare the risotto, then put the final dish together.
After receiving a gift of a variety of fish from my daughter at Christmas from Sitka Salmon Shares, it has become my source for fish; their salmon is perfection.
Easy Sautéed Salmon Filets
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 salmon filets, not steaks
Finely ground pepper
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and let it brown slightly.
Season the flesh sides of the filets, then place the filets in the skillet, flesh side up. Cook for about 2 minutes, then gently flip over.
Lower the heat slightly and cook the skin-up filets for a about 4 minutes. At this point you can easily remove the skins using a thin spatula.
Turn them over for one last time so the fish cooks under the skin more, about 2-3 minutes over the lowest heat. Place them on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm, then prepare risotto.
Lemon and Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas
Generously serves 2
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup Riesling or other non-dry white
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 or 4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup prepared green peas (or sliced steamed asparagus if you prefer)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let melt. Add the shallots and sauté for about 4-5 minutes; don’t allow much caramelization.
Add the rice to the pot and stir it around in the butter and shallots until all the grains are coated. Pour in the white wine. Stir as the rice cooks in the wine and it gradually gets absorbed.
Without letting the pot go completely dry, add some of the broth, about 1/3 cup at a time, and repeat the stirring process, without allowing any burning or sticking. Turn down the heat if you think the rice is cooking too fast; it’s always best to go slower. You can see the risotto is cooking but not ready quite yet.
When you’re down to the end of the broth, turn off the heat and gradually fold in 3 ounces of goat cheese until well distributed.
Add the salt and white pepper and taste for seasoning. If you’re satisfied, gently add the peas, lemon juice and zest, cover the pot, and set it aside.
Lemony Goat Cheese Risotto with Peas Served with Salmon
2 tablespoons goat cheese, at room temperature
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
A chiffonade of basil leaves
Strain the reserved butter in the skillet into a small bowl. There should be at least 1 tablespoon of melted browned butter. Add the 2 tablespoons of goat cheese into the butter by gently whisking until smooth. If you don’t like this idea, just put a small dollop of soft goat cheese on each filet before serving.
To serve, divide the risotto into two pasta bowls. Top each serving with a salmon filet. Divide the goat cheese-butter mixture between the filets.
Divide the lemon zest between both servings, and finish with the basil chiffonade.
I loved the goat cheese, lemon, and basil flavors together!
If you’re not familiar with the term salmon “filet,” here are photos of the two most common individual cuts – the thinner filet, and the thicker steak. Filets can be trimmed so their thickness is uniform. Save the scraps!
Thanks to Cooks Illustrated for these photos!