Risotto with Chard, Asparagus and Pea-Garlic Scape Pesto / by Alexa Arnold

A storm rolled into the city this weekend and brought a relentless downpour with it. The temperature sank to the low 60s, as if the universe knew I've been on a risotto kick for weeks and am completely unwilling to let go of cool spring crops anytime soon. I might have been the only one celebrating a weekend of rain, but it was a welcomed reprieve from the heat and the perfect reason to stay inside with my sweetheart and a warm meal. 

We've been inundated with greens, spring onions and other seasonal favorites from our CSA share over the past few weeks, and risotto has been an easy and quick way to incorporate a variety of vegetables. While I normally like to have complete control over my meals, it's been really fun to let go and let the contents of the CSA lead the way. Weeknight meals often take shape in the form of grains, proteins and vegetables in our home, and this dish was no exception. It's terrifically simple: while the rice is cooking, give your vegetables of choice a quick sauté, slowly incorporate them into the rice, and voila – risotto is served! I was looking for bit more pizazz, and a drizzle of garlic pea-garlic scape pesto did the trick. Garlic scapes are the flowering bud of the garlic plant, harvested in the spring to allow the garlic bulb to get bigger. They smell and taste just like garlic, and when blended with sweet spring peas, olive oil and pine nuts, you get the perfect topping for pasta, risotto or even toast. 

Risotto with Chard, Asparagus and Pea-Garlic Scape Pesto

Serves 4.
Ingredients:
For the risotto:
> 2 cups rice, uncooked
> 4 cups vegetable stock
> 3 red onions
> 1 bunch asparagus, about 12 stalks
> 1 bunch swiss chard, about 12 leaves, stems removed
> 1 cup sweet peas
> 2 tablespoons butter
> Drizzle of oil for sautéing
For the pesto:
> 1 lb garlic scapes
> 2 cups sweet peas
> 1/2 cup olive oil
> 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Preparation:
1. Thinly slice the red onions into small discs. Place them in a thick-bottomed pot, and sauté over medium heat with the butter until they're soft and caramelized. Add the rice to the pot and stir so that all of the grains are coated in butter. Add 1 cup of stock and cook until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, stirring constantly. Once the rice starts to look dry, add more stock and continue stirring. Repeat the process until the rice has reached a creamy consistency; the rice should be tender and firm, but not crunchy. If you run out of stock before the rice is fully cooked, continue the process using water. 
2. Slice the asparagus into small pieces and add to a pan with a drizzle of oil. Sauté until the asparagus is bright green in color, and then remove from the heat and set aside. 
3. Cut the chard into thin strips and repeat the process above. Set aside.
4. Blanch the peas: Boil water in a small pot, add the peas and let them cook for 3 minutes. Strain, and rinse in ice water. Set aside. Note: if you're using frozen peas, they're likely already cooked, so you can skip this step!
5. Add 1 cup peas and all of the asparagus to the rice and mix together. 
6. Prepare the pesto: add scapes, olive oil, peas and pine nuts to a food processor and blend until you've reached a smooth, spreadable consistency. Add more oil as you see fit. 
7. To serve, place a generous serving on risotto on a plate and top with a pile of chard. Drizzle the pesto on top.