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asparagus risotto

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Asparagus risotto

Making a good risotto is tricky: the proportion of liquid to rice; when to add on the add-ons; how to score the precise result between tough grains and a slop bucket; whether to use a wooden spoon or a whisk in the absence of the magical girariso and how much butter it REALLY needs.

There are recipes around for oven baked risottos, pour-it-all-in-at-once risottos, boil the rice like pasta risottos but frankly, they are not the genuine article. Sure, I’ve not tried all those recipes but my gut feeling and my half-Italian spouse tell me they are not autentico. So if I embark upon a Milanese or a primavera, it means stirring, stirring and stirring.

My God, is it boring.

It must be the most boring dish in the whole wide world – some elaborate cheffy sauces aside. Stir, stir, slop, slop, ladle. And again. And again for at least 25 minutes since I don’t believe a good result may be achieved sooner – unless with a boil-in-the-bag instead of Carnaroli. It’s amazing how long that feels when all you do is go round and round the pan. You can’t even multitask for fear of missing the next-ladle-moment. You’re just stuck there over the hob for almost half an hour.

I admit, the result justified the effort. The asparagus risotto, a purist’s variety of primavera, is molto rewarding. But I really fancied watching some paint dry for entertainment after this.

asparagus risotto


INGREDIENTS

  • a bunch of asparagus (8-9 spears)
  • 1l (a quart) vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter (plus more below)
  • ½ large onion, chopped very finely
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 200g (1 cup) Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 1 small glass of white wine or vermouth
  • zest grated from ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 50g (3 tbsp.) butter
  • 50g (½ cup) Parmesan
  • salt and black pepper
  • For the Parmesan crackers:
  • 60g (2/3 cup) grated Parmesan
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Asparagus


METHOD

To make the crackers, mix the thyme with the grated Parmesan. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3. Line a baking tray with parchment. Make 5 or 6 mounds of the parmesan mix on the parchment, well-spaced apart, and press them down gently to flatten. Bake for 8-10 minutes until crisp and golden. Cool the crackers on the parchment until set, then remove onto paper towels to drain the grease.

Parmesan crisps

Wash the asparagus and break off the woody ends; don’t bin them. Chop the spears except the tips; put those aside. Make up the stock or heat up already made in a pan until boiling. Add the woody ends of the asparagus and let the stock simmer gently next to your risotto pan – that’s to get the maximum flavour from the asparagus.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and sweat gently until slightly translucent, over medium heat. Add the rice and start stirring: if you don’t have the girariso – the special wooden risotto spoon with a hole in the middle – and you have a dough whisk, use that. Otherwise an ordinary wooden spoon is fine.

How to make risotto

When the rise starts hissing (about 3 minutes) and it’s hot, add the wine. Simmer stirring until it’s absorbed. Now start adding the stock, by a ladleful, stirring the rice in between additions. Only add the next ladle when the previous one has been absorbed but don’t let the rice get too dry.

After 20 minutes (and about two thirds of the stock) the rice should swell considerably. Add the chopped asparagus stems and keep stirring. After another 5 minutes and a couple more ladles of stock taste the rice – you might not need all the stock. The rice should be almost tender enough to eat but with quite a bite.

Cooking risotto

Take it off the heat, add the 50g of butter and the Parmesan and beat in well – it will look like it’s turning sloppy but don’t worry, it will keep good texture. Stir in half the lemon zest, half the dill and taste for seasoning; it will certainly need some black pepper. The saltiness depends on how salty your stock was. Add the asparagus tips to the pan, cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes.

Parmesan crackers

Spoon the risotto into the serving plates or bowls, sprinkle with extra zest and dill and serve with the Parmesan crackers on the side.

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