It’s a tradition as American as apple pie and not knowing where to find America on a map. Every couple of years, a new batch of baby-faced teens is harvested from the Disney Farmlands strategically positioned in our country’s most desolate regions. We take them in to our homes, tell them they are pretty, and give their mothers a reason to live. In return, they provide us with catchy pop songs and raise our children for us. A fair tradeoff.
But this honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. At some point, these girls decide they want to “find themselves” or something. They start to rebel. The first signs are subtle, maybe a half-assed pole dance at the Teen Choice Awards or a song that may or may not be about masturbation but probably is. Then things get more serious, like a 12-hour marriage in Vegas or a DUI. At this point we have lost all control. They can’t be tamed. Before you know it, they are five mug shots deep and believably looking the part of an 80-year-old alcoholic in a Lifetime original movie. THIS WAS NOT PART OF THE DEAL. WHAT WILL THE CHILDREN THINK?! etc. etc.
Anyway, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. This past weekend was the premiere of the much-anticipated indie flick Spring Breakers. The movie centers around four college girls- Faith, Brit, Candy, and Cotty- living in a small southern town where women are apparently designated as strippers upon birth. We follow them in their quest to get enough money and eventually go on spring break in a dingy Florida beach town- or, as they think of it, “seeing the world” and “finding themselves.”
Here’s why we care about this movie: it stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, both of tween Disney fame, and it is fucking raunchy. Also some girl from an ABC Family show is in it but I do not have any room in my brain to acknowledge the existence of ABC Family. Basically, THIS IS THEIR COMING-OF-AGE MOMENT. THEY ARE NOT LITTLE GIRLS ANYMORE. THEY’RE TIRED OF RUMORS STARTING.
What was I saying? Oh yeah, it’s raunchy. It’s dark. It’s mesmerizing and headache-inducing at the same time. It is basically dubstep in cinematic form, which is fitting since most of the soundtrack is provided by none other than… *shudder* Skrillex.
I don’t really want to give an in-depth plot summary, and I’m not even sure if that is possible with this movie, so instead I will sum it all up in a series of gifs.
So, yeah. You have pretty much seen the movie now. Honestly, I haven’t been able to process my feelings about it yet. Things like this take time. Please respect my privacy. Here’s what I know: I think I loved it, and I will for sure never see it again.
…but wait, isn’t this a food blog? How are we going to switch gears from a half-assed movie review given primarily in the form of perverted gifs to a legitimate culinary instruction complete with beautiful food porn-y pictures? SEAMLESSLY, that’s how. That is just the way I roll. Check it out.
The premiere of Spring Breakers coincides with the arrival of, duh, Spring. Let me tell you why I’m excited about this: asparagus. Also, flip flops. But mainly asparagus. It is my hands down favorite vegetable. Truth be told, I eat it just about year round, but it’s never as delicious and perfect as it is in the spring when it comes in to season. You can boil it, grill it, roast it, or even shave it and eat it raw in a salad. Roasting is by far my favorite go to method- toss it with salt and olive oil, throw it in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, give it a spritz of lemon juice and you have a side dish that goes with just about everything. Simplicity as it’s finest.
But, for the sake of fun, I thought I’d take that simple side dish and elevate it into a show-stopping main dish. Just as Selena Gomez’s character was transformed by the bright city lights of St. Petersburg, Florida, so too will this asparagus undergo a transformation today. I give you…asparagus pesto. I know! Who knew? But how?
First of all, if you’ve never made your own pesto, this is a must. It is so delicious and so easy because the food processor does all of the work. Traditional pesto is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Everything in the food processor. Done.
Since I already have that down, I thought it would be fun to do some experimenting with what pesto can be, and this is by far the best thing I have come up with. To really drive home the bright springtime flavor, I used the zest and juice of a meyer lemon. These things are so damn good- they are like if a lemon and a tangerine made sweet, delicate love and produced a genetically perfect child. Of course, if you can’t find these you can always use a regular lemon but I feel like after that description you at least owe it to me to try.
Anyway, here’s how you do it. Start by roasting some asparagus as instructed earlier.
Aren’t they beautiful? Resist the urge to eat all of them as is. Your will power and patience will be rewarded shortly. Give them a rough chop, and toss them in a food processor with some parsley, toasted walnuts, meyer lemon zest and juice, garlic, parmesan, and salt.
Pulse a few times, then stream in olive oil through the top of the food processor, and…
Within seconds, you have yourself a beautiful asparagus pesto. (I resisted a really strong urge to write “Presto! You have pesto.” right now so I feel like I deserve some recognition for not doing that even though I just did it kind of.)
So now what to do with this creation you labored so hard on? Simply tossing it with pasta would be the easy and delicious route. Instead of pasta, however, I wanted to go the extra mile and add it to a risotto. Yes, cooking risotto is more labor intensive, but as long as you follow my recipe instructions and you’re willing to nurture and stir it for 20-ish minutes, you should be good to go.
This is great as is. But just to give it some flare and truly make it a complete main dish, I finish it off with some diced sundried tomatoes and seasoned gulf shrimp which I quickly seared over a very hot pan.
And just think, these beautiful gulf shrimp came from the exact same ocean that was used to shoot the beach party scenes in Spring Breakers! (I am so sorry.)
Asparagus Pesto Risotto with Sundried Tomatoes and Seared Gulf Shrimp
1 bunch medium asparagus (about 1 lb.)
1 meyer lemon, zested and juiced (regular lemon may be substituted)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
8 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons butter, divided
20 medium gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 1 lb.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you don’t like spice, leave this out)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toss asparagus lightly in olive oil and salt, bake in oven for 8 minutes. Once slightly cooled, give them a rough chop and put them in the food processor along with the rest of the pesto ingredients, EXCEPT for the olive oil. Pulse everything a few times until it starts to come together, then slowly stream in the olive oil through the top of the food processor until it is all incorporated and all of the ingredients are evenly distributed into a smooth pesto.
Now that the pesto is done, move on to the risotto. Heat the chicken stock in a large saucepan and leave it over low heat to keep it warm. In another pot, melt two tablespoons of the butter and toss in the rice, allowing it to toast over medium heat for about a minute. Now pour in the wine and stir constantly until it has all been absorbed into the rice, about two minutes. Then add two ladles full of the chicken stock and continue to stir constantly until it all absorbed. Continue to repeat this process, working two ladles full at a time and stirring constantly, until the rice is fully cooked. This whole process should take about 20 – 22 minutes. The rice should still have a bit of bite to it but not be gritty.
Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and add the remaining two tablespoons of butter, the sundried tomatoes, and 2/3 of the pesto (this is all the pesto you will use for this recipe, you can save the rest for another use.) Stir well to incorporate everything evenly, and cover to keep warm while you cook the shrimp.
For shrimp, mix together salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder to make a seasoning. Coat a large skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat, and season the shrimp on each side with the seasoning mixture. Cook the shrimp in batches so as not to crowd the pan, getting a good sear on each side. You only need to cook these for about a minute or two total until they are no longer translucent.
To serve, transfer the risotto onto a platter and arrange the shrimp on top.