Saffron Risotto with Watercress Puree and Spring Vegetables – Recipe

Saffron Risotto with Watercress Puree and Spring Vegetables
Saffron Risotto with Watercress Puree and Spring Vegetables

Risotto is one of my favorite ways to highlight Spring ingredients. This is a version of a recipe I’m serving to a big group for Washington Green Schools this week. Depending on what ends up being fresh, I’ll probably do the puree with nettles instead of watercress, and top it with fava beans and hedgehog mushrooms rather than English peas and asparagus.

Don’t believe the hype that you have to stir risotto continuously. It is entirely adequate to stir it frequently. You’ll get a perfectly creamy result. The key to great risotto is to cook it until the rice is quite tender but not completely falling apart into rice pudding – there should be a hint of resistance when you bite a grain. Then be sure to finish it with plenty of cheese, and enough broth that it is almost pourable – all’onda (wavy), not so thick it stands up by itself.

Saffron Risotto with Watercress Puree and Spring Vegetables – Recipe
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 generous servings

  • Double recipe ChefSteps’ Watercress Puree
  • 2 cups shucked fresh peas
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 big pinches saffron (1/4 gram)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (50 grams) + more for the vegetables
  • 1/2 finely diced onion (140 grams)
  • 2 cups arborio rice (420 grams)
  • 1 1/4 cups dry white wine (300 grams)
  • 6 cups clear vegetable broth (1400 ml) at a simmer
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 pound taleggio or other triple cream cheese (113 grams)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Prepare the watercress puree and reserve warm.
  2. Preheat your serving bowls.
  3. In a large pot of boiling salted water, or sous vide, separately blanch and shock the peas and the asparagus.
  4. Wrap the saffron in tin foil and toast briefly in a dry skillet. Remove, cool, crumble, and add to the vegetable broth.
  5. Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and when it is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the rice, and cook, stirring frequently until the rice is translucent, about 3 minutes.
  6. Stir in the white wine and cook until it is absorbed.
  7. Ladle in about 1 cup of the broth, and stir the risotto well. Repeat this process every couple of minutes when the liquid is absorbed. You’ll see the rice begin to swell. Periodically taste a grain.
  8. When the rice is nearly done, bring a large skillet up to high heat and quickly saute the par-cooked asparagus and peas in a generous glug of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. When it is tender but has just a tiny bit of toothsomeness to it, stir in the lemon zest and cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Make a final adjustment to the texture of the risotto – it should be quite moist, otherwise it will firm up too much when set. If you’ve used up all of the broth, simmering water can be used instead.
  11. To finish, divide the watercress puree among the bowls. Spoon in the risotto and top with the vegetables. Serve piping hot.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, April 1st, 2013 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes.

5 Responses to “Saffron Risotto with Watercress Puree and Spring Vegetables – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    April 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Wow, loved this recipe. I had to make a few changes, I used thin fresh asparagus and cremini mushrooms, the saffron was so pleasing and made the dish. Since I was making a smaller portion I used only 1 cup of the arborio rice and parmesan for the cheese. I topped it off with a few shrimp I had left over from dinner yesterday and a fresh chopped tomato with a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

      So awesome that I just posted it today and you’ve already made it! That makes my day.

  2. Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    I first tried Risotto after seeing it feature so much on the food programmes. It never sounded too tasty but then I tried it and have been hooked ever since.
    Not only do I like the taste and the fact that there are so many different ways to make it but the making is so therapeutic.
    I take it slowly and my mind reflects on a million things.
    So another one to try. The cream cheese sounds interesting
    I have saffron but (embarrassed to admit) have never really noticed the taste of it. Maybe I don’t add enough because it is so expensive.

  3. Reply
    April 7, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Lovely idea with the watercress puree! And I just happen to have xanthan gum…will have to make some to serve alongside this luscious risotto!

  4. Reply
    April 8, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    I liked this idea so much I made it two days in a row. The first time I couldn’t find watercress, and didn’t have triple-cream cheese. So I skipped the puree, and used some grated Mahon cheese instead. Wonderful! BTW, if you have a nice tall microwave-safe rice-and-pasta cooker, this can all be done in the microwave. Roughly 4-5 minutes per cup of liquid in my somewhat old microwave. I made the onions and rice in a skillet, added the wine, then added the first cup of stock, and once it was warm, transferred it to the microwave pasta cooker. I could then deal with other aspects of dinner with just a quick stir-and-pour every 5 min.

    (I also blanched the peas and asparagus in the microwave. For pinkie-thickness asparagus, about 2.5 min works for me.)

    The second day I had the watercress (but no xanthan gum. I used a little olive oil — mostly to get it to stop sticking to the sides of my mini-chopper — and it worked fine). Made for a really nice flavor combination. The balance of the saffron and the cheese seemed exactly right. Another “Michael recipe” to go on the short rotation. 🙂

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