Date Night In The Kitchen: Asparagus & Pancetta Risotto

One of the many perks of graduating from culinary school is the way Josh brags about me to other people. Maybe I'm only cluing you in to just how large my ego is, but I love seeing his face light up when he talks about the food I make and how well-fed he is. Josh is not the braggy type, yet he can't control himself when given any opportunity to talk about my cooking.

When we invite people over for dinner, he lets them know they are in for a treat and openly rolls his eyes when I warn people that they might be setting their expectations too high. He'll "complain" about how I "force him" to go out to eat at nicer restaurants to study their dishes or that I'll make a gourmet dish a million times over to get it right. If I ever hint that my cooking isn't THAT great, he sternly corrects me and assures everyone around that it's just as good as he promises. That sense of pride he carries that his wife is a professionally-trained cook makes my heart swell. 

As with many people I know, I'm not great at taking compliments. I'll explain why it's not that good or that anyone can do it. I have my list of un-qualifications ready to go with every talent I might carry, especially cooking. I only started studying a few years ago. I definitely couldn't be a professional chef. I only graduated from a short program. This dish really isn't that hard to make- a monkey could do it. I don't even know how to make this or that.

I am always learning and growing in the kitchen while looking on at the incredible food bloggers, chefs, and wonderful home cooks I have gotten to know, whether online or off. It's easy to never feel qualified and believe that my home creations aren't good enough. I'll never be able to make everything and there will always be some things I'm just not good at. My food is not restaurant quality and I can't imagine the panic I'd feel at having a professional chef eat my homecooked meals. My confidence in cooking is not all that high, no matter how big my ego might otherwise be.

So I let Josh brag and talk me up, because I need to hear from him that I am good at this thing I love doing. He isn't a Food Network competition judge and has no cooking experience himself, but I need his stamp of approval and show of praise to help me feel more confident in the kitchen and continue doing what I love.

Unlike anyone else, he knows how far I've come in just the years we've been married. He ate the messy casseroles full of canned beans and topped with chips or pretzels. He watched me throw fits over pie crusts that never turned out. He laughed with me over the "french meringues" that amounted to nothing more than cooked white globs the size and width of a quarter. He celebrated the delicious crockpot soups I made from mostly boxed ingredients.

Four years ago, neither of us even knew what risotto was, let alone how to make it. Now it's become a weeknight staple that I've taught him to make with me while we flex our creative muscles by coming up with new combinations of flavors. I've come a long way and he never wants me to forget it.

I've learned from him how important it is that spouses receive praise from one another, even if they might not feel qualified to offer that praise. I might not know anything about how to fix a car, but I know that we've never had to take our car into a mechanic, so Josh must be pretty dang good. I would never want him to feel like he is unworthy of praise or that he isn't good enough to do what he does. He needs to know that I am confident in and value his skills, just as I need to know he values my talents as well.

And I have him to thank for that lesson. Man, isn't marriage and all that we learn from each other awesome?

Asparagus & Pancetta Risotto For Two

Perfect for: Cool spring nights you want to enjoy the process of cooking together
Pair With: A light, seasonal dessert like rhubarb pavlovas or strawberry shortcake 

6-7 cups vegetable stock
4 oz. pancetta, diced small
1/2 bunch of asparagus, chopped into 1/2in pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine or cooking sherry*
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano (high-quality parmesan)
fresh parsley, minced
salt & pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable stock to a low simmer then turn the heat to low. In the meantime, chop your pancetta, asparagus, and shallot. Cook your pancetta in over medium heat in a large saute pan with high edges. Once browned, remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside. Use the remaining fat to saute the asparagus. Once slightly browned and cooked through, add to the pancetta and set aside.

In the same pan over medium heat, add the oil and shallot and cook till the shallot is is translucent but not browned, just a few minutes. Add in the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat with oil. Let toast for about three minutes while stirring constantly.

While continuing to stir, pour in the wine. Once the wine stops steaming, add in about 1/3 cup or half a ladle full of vegetable stock to the rice. While constantly stirring slowly, cook until there is no more moisture on the bottom of the pan and add in another 1/3 cup. Continue to stir and add in broth 1/3 cup at a time when you no longer see moisture. Do not rush this as your rice needs time to absorb the flavorful liquid.

After about 15 minutes or when the rice has doubled in size, begin seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Take small tastes to test the texture of the rice (and use this opportunity to test the flavor and adjust accordingly with salt or spices). You want the rice to be soft but still have some structure and chew and the whole mixture to thicken with the rice's starch. As you stir through the rice, it should slowly fill the space. 

Once your rice is at the desired consistency, stir in the asparagus, pancetta, herbs, and freshly grated parmesan. Salt and pepper to taste. Top with additional parmesan and minced parsley.

*For my friends that prefer not use wine, simply add a 1/4 cup of vegetable stock when it says to add wine.