Early Spring see fresh young asparagus spears begin to appear form the ground and one of the best ways to enjoy this delicate green vegetable is lightly sautéed in garlic and butter or better yet, combined into a creamy risotto.
For many the idea of making Italian risotto brings fear and trepidation but you need not be worried, it is neither a complicated dish nor one requiring lots of ingredients – most of the ingredients will already be in your pantry cupboard … all you really require to make good tasting risotto is some time and patience.
Makes 6 Serves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 x 40 grams butter
1 small red onion (about 1 cup) – finely diced
2 or 3 garlic cloves – finely diced
1½ cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 litre quality chicken or vegetable stock
3 or 4 asparagus bunches
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley or mint – finely chopped
salt and pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ hot water
zest of 1 lemon – optional
extra parmesan for serving
1. Begin by cutting the woody end off the asparagus, then cut the spears into 2 or 3 cm pieces, making sure to leave some of the asparagus tips whole to garnish the final dish (2 tips per serve should be adequate).
Some people like to cut the asparagus finely, so it almost disappears in the final risotto merely leaving its flavour behind, I instead prefer to have largeish bites of the greeny goodness throughout the final dish. The choice is yours.
2. Place the stock into a saucepan and warm over a gentle heat until it comes to a simmer.
3. Next, place the oil and 1 of the butter chunks into a wide, heavy based frypan (DO NOT be tempted to use a saucepan) and heat over a medium heat so the butter melts.
4. Add the onion and garlic and gently sauté until the onion begins to go translucent, approximately 5 minutes before adding the rice.
5. Stir the rice through the onion, garlic, oil and butter so it becomes coated in the pan ingredients and liquids and continue cooking and stirring it for 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Next, add the cup of wine and stirring it through the rice whilst also deglazing the base of the pan and stir continuously until the wine is absorbed by the rice.
7. Once it is absorbed, add a ladleful of the warmed stock to the pan stirring it through the rice and wait until it is also absorbed, before repeating the process again and again.
Although some people say you should continuously stir the risotto whilst it is cooking, I don’t feel the process is truly needed. All you really need to do is stir the contents of the pan occasionally as you are repeatedly adding fresh stock and watch that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. If it does stick, the pan is too hot, so turn it down.
8. Once you are down to the last or second last ladleful of stock, add the cut asparagus and stir it through along with some of the stock, a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Allow the stock to absorb and then add the final remaining stock as well as the fresh parsley/mint. Stir through and wait for the liquid to absorb.
9. Whilst the rice is completing its final cooking stage, sauté the reserved asparagus tips in some butter and garlic so they are just tender and keep warm.
The entire cooking process from when you commence to add the stock should take around 20 minutes and the rice/risotto is cooked when it is al dente rather than mushy. If the rice is still too hard and undercooked, you can use some hot water to finish the cooking process.
10. Once cooked remove from heat and add the parmesan cheese, the second chunk or butter and lemon zest and stir through the rice until the butter fully melts. If the risotto seems too thick, add a little hot water.
11. Place into serving bowls and decorate with the sautéed asparagus tips, extra parmesan cheese and either a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or the butter remaining in the bottom of the sauteing pan.