When the weather is steaming hot, make Saffron Risotto Salad with Smoked Salmon, Peas, and Roasted Asparagus. Cook once, then serve special meals for 2 or 3 days. This cooling salad makes a bold statement perking up even the most humidity-wilted guest. It's a crowd-pleaser for family gatherings, birthdays, picnics, and parties, even for a party of one, you.
Make this salad with Arborio rice.
Especially during summer in Italy, we serve chilled rice salads because they are easy to make with brief cooking time. Any type of rice can be used but rice for risotto, such as Arborio, is ideal! Arborio rice adds body to this salad, and gives a pleasing chewy texture, unlike par-boiled rice or long-grain rice. Usually the rice is prepared plain but I like adding a touch of saffron to give deep flavor and bright color. (Powdered saffron is available at most specialty food stores, is inexpensive, and stores well.) Best of all, this medium-grain rice can be chilled overnight and not become dry and hard unlike most types of rice. So double or triple the rice amount, and separate cooked rice into servings for extra meals. Tomorrow, your rice salad will still be as good as the first day.
Serving is a breeze, for rice salads make a delightful Italian dish quickly assembled. Remaining low in calories and fats, rice combines deliciously well with a variety of ingredients, so offering guests a choice of main ingredients brings smiles and admiration. Substitute chicken, turkey, shrimp, grilled salmon, sausage, or firm tofu for the smoked salmon; add green beans, roasted red peppers, edamame, leafy arugula, or any ingredient you like with saffron. Present this beautiful salad in an elegant or colorful bowl so it looks as festive as it tastes. Chilled Prosecco, Cucumber Martinis, and G&T extend the pleasure.
4 first-course servings or 2 main course servings. Cooking time is 30 minutes.
2 cups (14 ounces or 397 g) raw Arborio rice
5 cups (1.18 liters) water
Generous pinch sea salt
4 packets powdered saffron (0.0035 ounce or 0.099 g each packet)
Main Salad Ingredients:
8 fresh asparagus spears tossed in olive oil for roasting
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces or 70 g) fresh peas
1 small stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced into rings
1 ounce (28 g) smoked salmon, diced
Fresh tarragon, basil, and/or mint leaves
6 tablespoons (90 ml) fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) white wine vinegar or to taste
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Cooking Arborio Rice: In a medium-size pot, add the rice, water, and salt. Generously salt the water so each entire grain of rice is seasoned from outside to inside during cooking. Stir once to distribute the salt. (If you add salt to cooked rice, the salt remains on the surface and the boiled rice tends to taste flat with a salty surface.) *If using Arborio rice or any rice used for making risotto, or another short-grain or medium-grain rice, do not stir often because these types of rice release the starch amylose which naturally creates a sauce. Use a flexible spatula to lift up and gently stir the cooking rice to prevent it from sticking to the pan; do not stir continuously or the rice will become sticky.
2. Over high heat, bring the water and rice to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the powdered saffron over the simmering rice, stir only to evenly distribute the saffron and continue simmering for 20 to 25 minutes or until the rice is al dente. (There should not be any water left.) When finished cooking, the Arborio rice swells, and when tasted, it has a slight chewy texture to it. Cool the rice for about an hour before making the salad.
3. Roasting Asparagus: Pre-heat the oven to 425°F/210°C/Gas Mark 7. While the rice is simmering, drizzle an oven-proof roasting pan with olive oil. Rinse the asparagus spears, let the water run off but do not dry. Lay them in the roasting pan, roll them in the oil, arranging one flat layer for even cooking. Season with salt to taste. Place the pan in the center of the oven. Roast only until the spears are firm, a fork can pierce with some resistance, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Remove from the oven, cool, then slice diagonally.
4. Peas: Either steam or boil the peas until al dente, takes about 5 minutes. Drain and cool.
5. Assembling Risotto Salad: Combine all salad ingredients. For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and seasonings until thick and emulsified. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss to evenly distribute the dressing. Serve within one hour. If you are making this risotto salad 2+ hours in advance of serving, combine all ingredients except for the smoked salmon and salad dressing. Add these just before serving. Enjoy!