Ah, spring is almost here. That can mean only two things in the vegetable world: asparagus and rhubarb. Well, we don’t get rhubarb here, so we have to be content with asparagus. But, that’s okay, because asparagus is, in our opinion, one of the tastiest vegetables around. Whether you steam it, grill it, broil it, or even add it to dishes like risotto, asparagus will stand out; with a short season, make sure to take advantage of it while you can.
To help with ideas for asparagus, we’ve come up with this recipe that should delight you with the fresh green taste of asparagus, even if you only have a small amount available. Perhaps, like us, you used a bunch in one dish, and are left with a dozen or so spears.
This recipe doesn’t really come from anywhere, except our years of making risotto; it’s mainly about the technique, anyway.
Makes 4 servings.
The most important thing to know here is that you need rice that’s appropriate for risotto. Ordinary rice will not work. We suggest using arborio rice, as it’s the easiest to find. Second, for some reason, risotto without wine doesn’t turn out as well, so, if possible, use it. Use a wine you like, it doesn’t have to be Pinot Grigio; we’ve use Champagne with great success, too. Third, you really want a mild broth or stock to allow the asparagus to shine through; and keep it hot and simmering while you’re making the risotto. We used a broth that we’d made from asparagus stems and a few other vegetable trimmings. Finally, feel free to substitute another mild cheese that melts for the Havarti, but keep the Parmesan (not from a green cylinder, please).
Procedure in detail:
Cook alliums. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large saucepan (about 3 quart). When melted and a bit foamy, add the onion and the garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add rice. Pour in the rice and stir to coat with butter and oil. Continue to cook until slightly translucent, but no more than 2 minutes. The 2-minute limit is there to prevent the rice grains from becoming sealed by cooking. If they cook too long, the outer coat hardens, making the release of starch problematic. If the starch doesn’t release, you won’t end up with a nice, creamy risotto.
Add wine. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring often, until the wine is almost all absorbed. You should be able to drag a spoon across the bottom of the pan without liquid filling in the resulting trough.
Add asparagus. Toss in the asparagus and quickly stir it in.
Add broth. Here’s where risotto gets the reputation that it’s troublesome. It’s not, but it does deserve your full attention. Add about 1/3 of a cup of hot broth and cook, stirring often, until it’s almost completely absorbed. Just as with the wine, liquid shouldn’t fill in the area left by a spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan. When the broth is absorbed, add another 1/3 cup of hot broth, and repeat the cooking process. Continue adding broth and cooking until the rice is tender on the outside and just slightly chewy in the center. If you run out of broth, use simmering water instead of broth. Cooking the rice correctly can take from 20 to 40 minutes, so you’ll need to be checking that rice often.
Add cheese. Stir in the cheese, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. We want to give the cheese time to melt into the rice a bit.
Stir and season. Stir the risotto again, taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve. Serve immediately — risotto does not take well to standing — and garnish with a few asparagus shavings.
As with almost all risottos, this gets five stars. As far as we’re concerned, risotto is the ultimate comfort food. Sure, we know that some people will claim that mac and cheese holds that title, but, to be completely honest, those people are just wrong. While we love mac and cheese, we think risotto should be thought of as the upscale, adult relative of mac and cheese. The dish you bring out for those special occasions, or for no occasion other than when you want a great meal. Try it and see if you don’t agree.