There are certain recipies or whole categories of cuisine that I find intimidating to the point of aversion. Yeasted breads. Roast turkey.  Macarons. Pretty much anything that  should be pronounced with a French accent, actually.  The thought of making a souffle is enough to make me dizzy and reach for a cake box mix.

I kid, of course. Like I’d reach for  a box mix!

But souffles do spark a quiver of dread in my belly.

Risotto used to fall into the “I don’t dare to try it” category as well. For some reason the concept of risotto seemed shrouded in mystery, something that you needed to be an iron chef to attempt, unless you wanted to serve up a congealed lump of goo for dinner. Something little ole me should definitely avoid.

Until I spotted arborio rice at Trader Joe’s (oh, those glory days in California when I shopped at TJ’s every weekend!) and on a whim I bought it. And then, one day when I must have been feeling particularly brave, I made it. This here recipe was my first attempt.

And it was a revelation.

First of all, it was delicious, and second, it was easy! Time-consuming? Yes. After everything is prepped, it will take over thirty minutes to cook, and all of that time is hands-on. Needy and demanding? Ok, yes. You have to stand over the hot stove and stir, stir, stir until it’s done. You have to add liquid at the right time, and you can’t walk away for more than a quick moment or bad things might happen. But. You get all the ingredients prepped and ready to go, you get the broth nice and hot so it doesn’t stop the cooking process every time it’s added, and then it’s actually pretty easy. It’s just a lot of stirring, people.

So here’s how it works:

Get some leeks. Slice off the tough dark green parts along with the roots. Slice them in half and wash really well. Dirt likes to hide in between all those pesky layers.

All clean!

Slice ’em up. The recipe says “finely chop,” so I guess you could cut them longways a couple of times first, but… meh. This worked for me. They kind of melt away by the end, anyway.

Put all the leeks in a bowl and set aside…

Measure out the rice and set that aside. (Seriously. This will make your life a lot easier when you get in the thick of it.)

You’ll also need these… (and black pepper, but the picture looked better without it). And please note my salt cellar. I love it. And it was cheap! Crate and barrel, baby.

Zest the lemon… I got just over 2 teaspoons from this lemon. Also, I don’t like my zester much. I need a microplane, I think.

Drain your artichoke hearts. (Oh little artichoke hearts, why did I wait so long to discover how tasty you are?)

Next, whip out your skillet, pot, or – if you’re lucky enough to have an awesome professor from college send you a risotto pan for a wedding present – your jazzy red cast iron enameled risotto pan.

Don’t forget to heat up your broth! I forgot to take a picture of that… *fascinating* step.

Heat up some olive oil and sautee the leeks until they just start to turn golden. Then add the zest and the garlic and sautee a bit more.

Toss in the rice and toast for a couple of minutes, until the rice turns clear at the edges but has a little bead of white at the center.

Now the fun begins! Ladle in some of the hot broth and stir, stir, stir, until it’s all absorbed. Then ladle in a bit more and stir, stir, stir. Then a bit more broth, and more stirring. You get the idea.

Whenever I make risotto (and that’s pretty frequently, now that I’ve realized how simple it is!) I feel like I’m massaging the liquid into the rice at the same time I’m massaging the creaminess out of the rice. Just be patient, let the liquid absorb, and add more. It’ll take 20-30 minutes. You’re looking for the rice to be cooked through but with a little bite in the center – not hard, and not mushy.

When it’s done, stir in the artichoke hearts and then the cheese.  (Marscapone is expensive when all you need is a few tablespoons, and it goes bad fairly quickly. I use freshly grated parmesan because it keeps well in the fridge and it tastes way better than the pre-grated stuff. Actually what I used is asiago, which is even cheaper than parmesan but just as tasty.)

I’m sorry for this terrible picture. The lighting in my house stinks, and of course I had no shot at getting natural light when I don’t get home until 5:30! But risotto isn’t all that pretty to photograph anyway. Meh. Anyway, when it’s all done, serve it up with some freshly grated cheese on top.

That wasn’t too hard was it? All that fuss and fear for nothing, it turns out.

Hm, maybe I’ll try my hand at a souffle next…

Leek and Artichoke Risotto

2-3 large leeks, white and light green parts finely chopped (1 1/2- 2 cups)

2-3 tsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2-3 tsp lemon zest

1 cup arborio rice

3-4 cups chicken/vegetable broth or water (I often use a combination)

1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained and chopped (8 small-medium hearts)

salt and pepper

2-3 tbsp mascarpone (or parmesan) (or asiago)

Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Reduce to a simmer and cover.

Sautee leeks in olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat until slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and lemon zest and sautee for 1 minute.

Add rice and allow to toast, while stirring, for 2-3 minutes. If the grains were white, they should now be more clear with a bright white dot in the center.

Add vegetable stock in 1/2 cup additions, adding more each time the prior addition has been absorbed by the rice. Stir frequently or continuously. Keep adding broth until rice is tender. It should take approximately 3 1/2 cups and take 25-30 minutes.

Stir in artichoke hearts (and lemon juice, if you decide to add some) and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until artichokes are warm, then remove from heat.

Stir in cheese and serve.

Serves 3 as a main, 4 as a side.