A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law and I spent a wet and dreary afternoon planting starters in my very first vegetable garden. It was cold and laborious work, but we spent the time laughing, imagining we were medieval peasants slogging through the mud on our knees to plant our radishes, potatoes and greens. It was wholesome fun, and although I was soaked and chilled to the core by the end, my heart was warm and happy.
We planted two varieties of kale, which, while well-known for its high nutritional density, is not so popular for its taste. I am only slightly ashamed to admit I’m generally not a fan of the oh-so-ubiquitous kale salad with nuts and dried fruit and a zesty lemon vinaigrette. I am much more likely to enjoy eating my greens if they are in a savory soup, or if they are part of a more indulgent dish, like pizza, pasta or this creamy Parmesan risotto topped with sauteed mushrooms and crispy baked kale.
Parmesan risotto with mushrooms and kale
1 ½ cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ white onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups trimmed kale
1 pound sliced cremini mushrooms
3 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Wash and trim your kale, toss in olive oil and salt generously. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes or until the kale is dry and crispy.
Heat your broth on the stove until steaming and keep it hot.
Saute the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter for 5 minutes, then add the dry rice and cook until the rice smells nutty and begins to look translucent.
At the same time, in a separate pan, saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Do not salt the mushrooms until the very end because salting too early will result in soggy mushrooms. Cook until the pan is dry, and the mushrooms have a golden-brown crust, tossing often to prevent burning.
When the rice begins to brown, it is time to start adding the hot broth, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly until the pan is dry again, and then add more hot broth.
Continue adding broth and stirring until the liquid is gone until the rice is fully cooked. This could take some time (it took me about 45 minutes) and requires near constant attention, so be sure you’re ready to commit before you start.
When the rice is fully cooked, add the heavy cream and cheese.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Create a sauce with the mushrooms if you like by adding 3-4 tablespoons broth mixed with one teaspoon beef base and ½ tablespoon cornstarch and cook until thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Immediately before serving, add the last tablespoon of butter to the rice to finish.
Plate your rice and top with the mushrooms and kale, then drizzle a little olive oil on top and serve.
This dish isn’t as healthy or nutritious as that kale salad, but sometimes a meal is much more than just vitamins, minerals and macros. As I picked the first of the fruits of our labor, I reflected on the bouquet of kale in my little hand. Of course, the kale is packed with nutritional goodness, but the pride inherent in producing food from the earth, and the knowledge I receive from family and earn through action and error, is superfood for my soul.