Caramelized Carrot Risotto with Watercress Pesto

Carrots add surprising richness, sweetness and heartiness to risotto, topped here with a pesto made with watercress and hazelnuts that provides a bright counterpoint. Cooks familiar with the basic risotto technique might want to skip directly to the pesto directions.

(From Risotto by Maxine Clark)

1 lb carrots, cut into chunky rounds or batons (3 ½ cups)

¼ cup olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Watercress pesto:

2 handfuls of watercress leaves, without stalks

1 garlic clove, chopped

3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup shelled hazelnuts

½ extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for covering

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Risotto

About 6 cups of vegetable or chicken broth

1 stick unsalted butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cups risotto rice

2/3 cup dry white wine

¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the carrots in the olive oil, spread in a roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, turning occasionally until they begin to caramelize.

Meanwhile, to make the pesto, put the watercress, garlic, Parmesan, hazelnuts, olive oil, salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down any bits that cling to the side of the bowl. Alternatively, pound with a mortar and pestle.  Cover with a thin layer of oil and set aside.

To make the risotto, put the broth in a saucepan and keep at a gentle simmer.  Melt half the butter in a large, heavy saucepan and add the onion.  Cook gently for 10 minutes until soft, golden, and translucent but not browned.  Add the rice and stir until well coated with the butter and heated through.  Pour in the wine and boil hard until it has reduced and almost disappeared.  This will remove the taste of raw alcohol.  Begin adding the broth, a large ladle at a time, stirring gently until each ladle has almost been absorbed by the rice.  The risotto should be kept at a bare simmer throughout cooking, so don’t let the rice dry out – add more broth as necessary.  Continue until he rice is tender and creamy, but the grains still firm.  (This should take 15-20 minutes, depending on the type of rice used – check the package for instructions).  Stir in the carrots and pan juices.  Add salt and pepper to taste and beat in the remaining butter and half the Parmesan.

Cover and let rest for a few minutes so the risotto can relax and the cheese melt, then serve immediately.  You may like to add a little more hot broth to the risotto just before you serve to loosen it, but don’t let it wait around too long or the rice will turn mushy.  Serve in warm bowls with a spoon of pesto on top and sprinkled with the remaining Parmesan.


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