I designed this dish with nettles, but it also works well with any wild green. Blanched, nettles and dandelions will keep their emerald loveliness even after a good 15 minutes of cooking, which makes this risotto visually stunning. If you have leftovers, you can add the risotto to a beaten egg, form into patties or balls, roll in breadcrumbs, and fry in olive oil. It is delicious.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a handful of salt.
2. Grab the nettles with tongs and put them into the boiling water. Stir the greens and let boil for about 1 to 2 minutes for dwarf nettles, 4 to 5 minutes for regular nettles. (Dandelion or chicory greens need about 3 to 5 minutes to get tender yet still bright green. Amaranth, orach, and lamb’s-quarter can handle a full 5 minutes.)
3. Remove the greens with a skimmer or tongs and immediately dump them into a big bowl of ice water. Once the greens are cool, drain them in a colander.
4. Roll up the greens in a cloth or tea towel. Twist one end of the cloth one way, then the other end of the cloth the other (like a candy wrapper) and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
5. Chop the greens finely (don’t use a food processor, or you will get mush). The finer you chop, the smoother your risotto will be. Remove any stray stems.
6. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucier or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Wait until the butter stops frothing and add the shallot. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often.
7. Add the garlic and the rice and stir to combine. Stirring constantly, cook everything for a minute or so or until all the rice is well coated with butter.
8. Stir 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of the beef stock into the rice and increase heat to high. When the rice starts boiling strongly, turn down the heat to medium and stir often, at least every minute or so, until the rice absorbs the stock. Repeat with a second cup of stock.
9. When the second cup is absorbed, add the greens and the third cup of stock. If using store-bought broth, switch to water for this third cup—otherwise your risotto could become too salty. Stir well to combine. Keep stirring constantly to develop the creaminess in the risotto and to distribute the greens evenly. Let the stock absorb well.
10. Add additional salt, if desired. The risotto may need another full cup of stock or water, as you want the dish to be loose, not firm (and you will need at least a little more stock to loosen the risotto for the cheese).
11. Add the final tablespoon of butter as well as the cheese. Stir everything well and let the butter and cheese melt in the risotto for about 2 or 3 minutes, stirring often. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings as a main course or 4 as an appetizer
Note: Depending on the variety of greens, you will need four or five big tongfuls to get your cup of cooked greens. One tip: Regular nettles (Urtica dioica) are more substantial than their daintier cousins, the dwarf nettle (U. urens) and retain more of their volume when cooked. Also, I say tongfuls because you do not want to pick up fresh nettles, as they will sting you. Thus the name. If you are using another wild green, you can just pick them up by hand.