Lenny Russo: Chef Chat, Part 3


While Lenny Russo takes on his biggest endeavor yet, Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market, opening in Lowertown next month, he took the time to talk to Hot Dish, and shared one of his favorite recipes, in the third part of our series. You can read Part 1 and Part 2, here if you missed them.

What is your best culinary tip for a home cook?
Don't be intimidated by the food. Everyone can cook. All it takes is some patient practice with a little trial and error thrown in. How's that for a recipe?

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

My maternal grandparents. That's two people, but I think they would be proud.

What are your favorite Twin Cities restaurant(s) other than your own?

I can't answer that. I have too many friends in town who are amazing chefs, but if you want to talk about which great restaurants are perpetually overlooked then I can say Tampopo and Sapor are two places where the food is fantastic and the recognition is not.

Who is your favorite celebrity chef?

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Jose Andres. He is a really generous and talented human being, and his PBS show is outstanding.

Who is the celebrity chef who you think should shut up?
I'm not sure that anyone would consider me to be a celebrity, but if I ever do attain that status then the answer is probably me. I have an impeccable gift for stuffing my foot in my mouth whenever the opportunity is presented. I'm also incredibly opinionated; I stand on firm moral ground sometimes in the face of reason; and I have no patience for posers and fools. Those qualities have gotten me into trouble in the past, and I see no reason why that would change in the future. Beyond that, there is no way you can get me to tell someone else to shut up when I am such a blabbermouth in my own right.

Russo also generously shared one of his favorite seasonal recipes, a beautiful risotto dish.

Lenny Russo's Asparagus-Barley Risotto

1 qt. court-bouillon (see recipe) or low sodium vegetable broth
½ lb. hulled barley
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp. whole unsalted butter
1 white onion, peeled and diced 1/8"
1 carrot, peeled and diced 1/8"
2 ribs celery, peeled and diced 1/8"
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. fine sea salt
½ tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
2 cup asparagus, bias cut and blanched
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup good-quality Parmesan cheese, grated

Bring the stock to a slow simmer in a nonreactive pot. Meanwhile, heat the grapeseed oil in a shallow braising pan or sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the vegetables and lightly sauté until tender. Add the barley and season with salt and pepper. Sauté the barley with the vegetables until it begins to change color. Stir occasionally using a wooden spoon. This is called pearlizing. Once the barley is pearlized, slowly add the stock using a four-ounce ladle. Continue to stir the barley as you add the stock. Allow the stock to become completely absorbed before adding another ladleful. Repeat this process until all of the stock is used. The barley should be tender but not soft. Add the asparagus and thyme and remove the risotto from the heat. Continue to stir gently until the asparagus is warmed through. Gently stir in the butter and cheese and adjust for salt and pepper if necessary. This dish may be served as an accompaniment for chicken or fish or may be served as a vegetarian entrée.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings

© 2005, Leonard P. Russo


2 white onions, peeled and diced ¼"
3 carrots, peeled and diced ¼"
½ stalk celery, peeled and diced ¼"
1 medium leek, cleaned and diced ¼"
1 garlic bulb, quartered
1 bouquet garni consisting of 2 thyme sprigs, 2 marjoram sprigs, 3 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 5 whole allspice, 10 white peppercorns, 10 black peppercorns, and 12 fennel seeds
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 cup dry white wine

In a stock pot over moderate heat, sweat the vegetables in the grapeseed oil until tender. Add the white wine and the bouquet garni. Fill the pot with one gallon of cold water and bring it to a boil over high flame. Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours skimming intermittently. Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with moistened cheesecloth.

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours
Yield: 1 gallon.
© 2003, Leonard P. Russo