Asparagus Risotto

ImageOne day it's pouring rain and the next it's sunny and bright. Trees are already blooming with cherry blossoms, the delicate pink petals sometimes getting washed away in a sudden downpour. The hills all around the Bay Area are green and lush. And in the store you can find fresh strawberries, artichokes and asparagus.

I think one of the reasons I love the Spring so much is the tender delicious fruits and vegetables. After eating hardy root vegetables and cabbage, chard, potatoes and leeks, the vegetables of Spring are a welcome change of pace. They are a wonderful reminder of new life and fresh beginnings.

Asparagus is available much of the year but in the Spring it is at it's best. My favorite way to serve asparagus is in risotto. I make a broth from the stems and add the tips and the tender stems to the rice at the last moment so it stays tender-crisp. While Winter vegetables are wonderful cooked in soup or mashed somehow Spring vegetables seem too delicate to manhandle in that way.

I have been loathe to share a risotto recipe because I truly believe it is one of those dishes you have to have tasted perfectly cooked to understand. Watching someone make it is also an excellent way to learn. But don't let my foibles keep you from mastering it.

Asparagus Risotto
Serves 4 as a first course or 2 as a main course)

About 4 cups chicken stock or broth, vegetable stock is ok too
1 bunch asparagus, about 1 pound, thick or thin, either is fine
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium cup onion, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup Fontina or Jack cheese, grated (I've even used brie)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Simmer the stock with the tough ends of the stems of the asparagus. Season the stock with a couple teaspoons of salt. Remove and discard the stems after 5-10 minutes. Slice the asparagus into 1/4 inch thick diagonal slices.

Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, and cook until soft but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the grains become opaque and white, another 2 minutes.

Add the wine, if you desire, and cook until it evaporates. Add 1/2 cup of the stock at a time, stirring and cooking until the rice is nearly dry. Add another 1/2 cup of the stock and continue to stir and cook, adding stock as necessary, until the rice is almost cooked, about 15 minutes. Stir in the asparagus slices. Continue to cook until the asparagus is just barely cooked, about 3 minutes or so. Risotto should take 18 minutes total cooking time.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and cheeses. Let the risotto sit in the pot for a couple of minutes before serving. It should be soft and runny, not firm. If it is too dense, add a spot more liquid. Taste for seasonings--salt if necessary. Serve with more Parmesan cheese to top. Risotto should be al dente, not as soft as regular rice.



Amy Sherman is a San Francisco–based writer, recipe developer, restaurant reviewer and all around culinary enthusiast. She blogs for Epicurious , Bay Area Bites and Cooking with Amy.