With spring finally here and beautiful asparagus plentiful, I always want to make this dish: Asparagus Risotto. Years ago I never liked risotto, I actually never wanted to try it. Soupy rice? No way. My mother used to make this Polish meal of a hot soup made with milk and rice (gag – I hated it), potato pancakes and applesauce. Oh I thought it was AWFUL!!! My father loved it and even one of my brothers, David, asked for the rice soup once for his birthday. Fortunately I had left town by then. So this is why I never ordered risotto in a restaurant, thinking it was too close to that soup. But no, not at all.
And then there are the asparagus stories in my family. My father loved, loved, LOVED asparagus. And in those days when I was young, it was really only available in the spring and early summer. But it was still relatively expensive and we were a family of eight with six kids. So my father would buy two to three bunches, and actually count the spears and divide by eight as to how many spears each person got. This ran between five and eight, depending on how expensive they were. We would always tease him as he counted, while lovingly serving them to each of us. He liked asparagus so much, he even liked the canned white stuff (gag).
My father never cooked much, but he always made the asparagus. He would take each spear, hold it at each end and bend it until it broke at the point of tenderness, all the while, explaining to me what he was doing. Breaking at the point of tenderness was so important to him. After washing, he would then pile them all up with the ends together forming a flat bottom, and tie up the bundle with white kitchen string.
Using the double boiler, he would fill the bottom pan with about an inch and a half of water and stand the bundle of asparagus upright in it and then take the top pan and turn it upside down, covering the top portion and tips. He would then steam them for about 8 – 10 minutes, testing the tenderness of the stems with a fork. When they were done, he would carefully lift out the whole bundle and place it in one of my mom’s square Pyrex pans, cut loose and remove the white string, and proceed to put probably too many pats of butter on top. He would move those pats around, making sure all spears were covered, from stem to tip, and then count to serve. This is how I grew up on asparagus!
But back to risotto, this recipe is based on combination of Mario Batali’s and Mark Bittman’s recipes and was first printed in The New York Times back in 2007. I have changed it a bit. It is a family favorite in our household, the kind of dish you can just sink right into – real comfort food – with the spring accent of asparagus. You can even throw in some peeled raw shrimp at the end, (stir until done) to dress it up even more if you’d like. Serve as a first course or with your meal as shown here with broiled lamb chops. I hope you like this. Maybe it will become a family favorite in your house too!
Asparagus Risotto – Adapted from Mario Batali and Mark Bittman – serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side
1+ lbs. asparagus, no less than ¼” thick, snapped at the point of tenderness, washed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved
5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup, heaping, grated Parmesan cheese.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Drain. Put cooked asparagus in a food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.
Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 3/4 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time the stock has just about evaporated, add more. You need to stir no more than occasionally. For example, stir after each addition of liquid and then once or twice more before that liquid evaporates.
After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in the asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.