Occasionally, I have moments of frugality, which result in a decision that a dinner must be made with whatever ingredients are available in the pantry and absolute zero additional investment. The best part of frugal cooking is that it often leads to memorable meals and keeper recipes. A couple of nights ago, all we had was one lime, one lemon, some mascarpone, a basil plant my daughter is growing for a school project, plus the very essential pantry stuff. And the outcome; a refreshing risotto, with a burst of lemony herbal flavors. We tend to be short on food sometimes, but are never short on booze, so we opened up a bottle of white and toasted to frugality. —QueenSashy
Carnaroli or Arborio rice
Juice and zest (grated on a microplane) from one small lemon
Juice and zest (grated on a microplane) from one lime
olive oil, plus some more for drizzling
large shallots, finely chopped
About 20 large basil leaves, finely minced (plus extra leaves for garnish)
Pour the olive oil into a large saute pan. Add the shallots. Turn the heat to medium. (It's nice to start shallots cold, as they will be more mellow when cooked slowly.) Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until the shallots are very soft and translucent (be careful not to brown them, if medium heat is too much, bring it down a notch). Add 1/2 cup of water and continue to cook, stirring often, until water evaporates and shallots are meltingly soft.
Add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice with oil. Cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are translucent around the edges, about 5 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup of broth to the rice. Add lemon and lime juices, and lemon and lime zest. Cook, stirring constantly. Continue to add broth in 3/4-cup increments, stirring constantly and allowing liquid to absorb fully before adding more. Cook until rice is al dente and surrounded by fluid, not-too-thick creamy suspension, for about 25–30 minutes. (You may not have to use all of the broth.) The finished texture of the risotto should be more of a liquid than a solid. Start checking the rice after about 18 minutes; the grains should be tender but not mushy, with a slight bite to them.
Remove the risotto from the heat and add the basil and the mascarpone. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the risotto into individual plates, garnish with basil leaves, sprinkle with pepper and parmesan (if using) and serve.
In a medium stock pot, over medium heat, bring the broth to simmer. Reduce heat to low and keep the broth at bare simmer.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.