Late last summer I planted asparagus seeds. This was a seriously long-term investment in our culinary future. Although the tiny seedlings popped up – perfect asparagus in miniature – within weeks, there won’t be any harvesting for another eighteen months. Until then they grow, achingly slowly, in our raised vegetable bed, taunting me with their tiny perfection. On the upside, once an asparagus bed gets going you can leave it in place for years and years (seven or perhaps twenty, depending which source you might believe). Once something is planted in the garden, no matter what stage of its development, I am reluctant to buy it elsewhere. Partly this is thriftiness (or stinginess, if that’s your angle), partly it’s about attempting to honour the principles of eating seasonally, and partly it’s about the satisfaction of making do with what one has to hand. Sometimes though, as with eggs, I cave in to desire.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
50 grams of unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
330 grams of arborio rice (or other risotto rice, as you wish)
250 mls of white wine (I keep a 2 litre cask of dry white in the pantry for just such a thing)
1 litre of vegetable stock (I use 2 massel ultra stock cubes) hot
3 bunches of asparagus
1 cup of grated parmesan
zest & juice of a lemon (homegrown, slightly redemptive)
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan/deep sided, wide frypan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes until softened.
Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and stir to coat the grains.
Add the wine and stir for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, allowing each to absorb before adding the next. Now there are two schools of thought on this process – stirring vs non-stirring with occasional swirling. If you stir, particularly if it’s vigorous, your end result will be a thicker texture. If you swirl occasionally the end result is a looser risotto. Entirely up to you.
Carry on until the rice is cooked but not too soft. This will take 20-30 minutes. It’s best if you don’t wander off during this time. Inattention can lead to a much gluggier result.
In the meantime, trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Peel the stalks, leaving the tips intact. Chop into ~5cm segments.
Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes, until just tender. The tips will be bright green. Drain, then refresh in cold water. I have read a theory that putting the peelings into the water you’ll blanch the asparagus in gives an extra-asparagusy flavour. I tried this and just found it fiddly without an appreciable difference in flavour.
When the risotto is almost done, add the asparagus, parmesan, lemon zest and juice. Gently combine then season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes, then serve.
It’s hard to turn down a good risotto. Some are dreadful. I once worked in a pub where the name risotto was given to cooked rice fried up with chunks of whatever and peas (always with the peas) then sprinkled with parmesan. Fine to eat if you’re a house-sharing uni student, at the end of a feet-blistering shift, if you need a heavy dose of carbs and salt, and you can disguise its hideousness with the wine bottle rejects of the night. Not fine if you’re bothering to cook yourself a dinner you plan to enjoy.
This is worth the moderate amount of effort and attention. For extra carby-deliciousness, serve it up with chunks of fresh crusty bread slathered with real butter. Oh and a bit of white wine won’t go astray.