I fondly remember a light and delicious herb-lime risotto I enjoyed one sunny September day some years ago. I was at La Fenière, the celebrated hotel and restaurant in Loumarin, Provence, and this was one of the dishes chef Reine Sammut’s offered in her Mediterranean olive oil tasting lunch.
She served the risotto topped with thin strips of braised cuttlefish, drizzled with a few drops of its deep black ink sauce. The seafood was excellent, but the fragrant, fruity rice was the real revelation to me.
Scroll down to see the impressive ‘red risotto’ a variation using beet stems and leaves.
Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
I didn’t get Sammut’s recipe, just a description, so this is my own rendition of the dish: a simple greens, garlic, herb, and lime risotto that I make often, using any leafy winter or spring greens, and all or some of the herbs on the list, whatever my garden provides. When I don’t have fresh herbs I use the ones I often freeze; unfortunately even good dried herbs will not give the same rich result.
I conclude by folding-in grated Parmesan, which brings out the flavors of the herbs, and very often top the risotto with a 7-minute cooked egg; the deeply-flavored ones from our neighbor’s hens.
You can also serve along with Baked or roasted Fish, or complement the risotto with grilled Halloumi.
Serves 4-6 as main course; 6-8 as a side dish
About 1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced –white and most green part
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 good bunch broccoletti (broccoli rabe) or spinach leaves (not baby spinach); stems separated, and finely chopped and leaves shredded (see Variation with beet stems and leaves)
2 cups Arborio rice or other good-quality medium grain rice
1/2 cup white wine
About 8 cups very hot vegetable or chicken broth, see note
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley –leaves and tender stems
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano or thyme
½ – 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, or more, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan, Grana Padano or aged Graviera, plus more for the table
Good olive oil for drizzling
1 lemon or lime, quartered.
Warm the olive oil and sauté the onions for about 8 minutes, on medium-low, tossing often. Add the garlic and scallions and toss a few times then add the stems from the greens and the rice, increase the heat to medium-high and sauté another 3-4 minutes, until the rice is shiny and sizzling.
Pour in the wine, add salt and cook, stirring for 30 seconds or so, until the wine evaporates. Pour in 1 cup of hot broth and cook, stirring frequently. Add broth by the ladle, as the rice absorbs the liquid, until it is almost cooked, about 15 minutes.
Fold in the herbs and cook another 4-5 minutes, until the rice is al dente.
Remove from the heat. Add pepper and lemon juice, fold in the cheese and taste to correct the seasoning, finishing with a drizzle of good olive oil and some finely grated lemon zest, if you like.
Serve immediately with lime or lemon quarters, adding an 7-minute cooked egg to each plate, if you like.
Instead of vegetable broth, soak 1/2 cup dried Porcini mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes. Chop them finely with scissors and add to the rice with their strained liquid, after the wine has evaporated. Cook the risotto as described, adding boiling water in place of stock as needed.
Beet Stem and Leaves’ Risotto
Substitute a good bunch –about 1 1/2 pounds– beet stems and leaves for the broccoletti or other greens
Omit the turmeric
Add more dill –about 2/3 cup– and omit the basil
Proceed to make the risotto as described above. Instead of white wine, you can use rose or a light red.