Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring is here: Asparagus

Asparagus Risotto
(Listening: Jacob Young: Sideways)

Our youngest daughter is still in college and dorm life doesn’t lend itself to creative cooking, either on your own or in the dining halls. So whenever she’s home, we cook together. When the first sounds reach her from the kitchen, I know she’ll appear and ask to help. (Her older sister would say it’s because of second child syndrome; she’s bored, that’s all, and looking for a distraction).

Risotto is something we’ve made together for a long time. At first, I could leave her to it while I hovered in the background and did other things, eyeing her (and the risotto’s) progress. She no longer needs me to hover. She makes great risotto.

Asparagus risotto is an early rite of spring. When it’s too early for local asparagus, California asparagus will do the job. Out local season is near; asparagus from Delaware has recently appeared at a local farm market.
You can use chicken broth or vegetable broth. You can make an easy vegetable broth with the lower parts of the asparagus stems that you break off when you trim the asparagus (just don’t use the very, woody bottom ½” or so) along with half a medium onion, a carrot or two and one or two stalks of celery, all cut into 1” pieces. Place the vegetables into a medium-sized saucepan; fill pan with cold water. Lightly salt the water (1/4 teaspoon salt, enough to bring out the flavors of the vegetables but not so much that you end up with salty broth). Bring the pan to a simmer and reduce by a third. Taste the broth; cook longer if necessary. Strain the finished broth, pressing the vegetables with a spoon to release more juices and reserve to use for the risotto.

Risotto is always finished with butter. For this recipe, I make an asparagus butter; if you don’t want to, you can skip it.

Asparagus Butter (optional)
¾ cup chopped asparagus
2/3 cup water
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Place the asparagus and the water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Lightly salt the water. Simmer the asparagus until tender. Remove from heat. There should be water leftover in the pan. If  needed, add 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Whisk in the butter. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Transfer the asparagus butter to a small bowl and set aside until needed. Leftover asparagus butter can be frozen and used at another time.

Asparagus Risotto
For the purpose of this recipe, this has been scaled to two portions. For larger portions, figure 1/3 cup Arborio rice and 2 to 3 ounces asparagus per serving, along with additional broth.
Even though I have made risotto for a long time, I still set a timer (for 18 minutes after the wine is added) and cook the risotto while eyeing the timer

2/3 cup Arborio rice
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
½ cup dry white wine
¼ pound asparagus, cut into ½” pieces (about 1 cup)
2 Tablespoons asparagus butter, or unsalted butter
2 to 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil, for cooking
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the broth into a saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keep it at a low simmer as you cook the risotto.
2. Place a second saucepan for the risotto over medium heat. When hot, swirl in 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the shallots and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes; adjust heat if necessary. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the olive oil.
Pour in the white wine and stir. Stir until the wine is almost absorbed. Ladle about ¼ cup of the hot broth into the rice. Now begins the process of stirring the rice and adding the broth, about ¼ cup at a time. Adjust the heat to keep the risotto at a gentle simmer. Add broth when the liquid is almost absorbed into the rice; stir throughout at this point of the cooking.
3. After about 5 minutes, add the asparagus pieces. With the asparagus pieces in the risotto, you may have to add a larger amount of stock to cover the rice and asparagus. Season the risotto with a little salt.
4. Continue cooking the risotto by adding more broth as needed. After about 10 minutes cooking time, you won’t need to stir constantly but watch that there is enough broth in the pot and the risotto isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot.
5. After about 18 minutes, taste the risotto. The rice should be firm but it shouldn’t have any undercooked crunch to it. If it does, continue cooking for a few more minutes.
6. When the risotto is al dente, remove risotto from heat. Stir in 2 to 3 Tablespoons asparagus butter (or plain unsalted butter). Add the Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper and stir. Cover the pot and set it aside for two minutes. After two minutes, check the risotto. Add a little extra broth if you like your risotto a little loose.
Portion the risotto into two bowls. Drizzle each with a little extra virgin olive oil and additional grated Parmesan. Serve and sigh. Yes, my kid made this.

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