Fresh asparagus has been popping up at tons of places we have been shopping this last week. I grabbed the best looking bundle from the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store the other day, as a hankering for risotto had set in. Little did I know that the day I was going to make It world be close to 90 degrees. The process of stirring was a bit like being in a sauna, but by the time the sun set, the back screened porch had started to cool down and we enjoyed our meal out there while the crickets serenaded us. Was not finding fresh peas yet, so went with my old stand-by of a really high quality frozen bag. Opt for the larger, non-petit size. They really work pretty wonderfully in risotto. If you can find fresh, by all means use them. For the asparagus, chose the thicker the better. They hold up nicely when mixed into the hot rice. I cut them up first and roasted on a sheet pan at 400 degrees mixed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Pull out while still a bit firm, as they will continue to cook later in the risotto. I took out all the tops and reserved in a separate bowl, as they look nice on top of the individual risotto servings at the very end.
Heat up the 8 cups of stock to not quite a boil, then turn down the heat a bit, but the stock should remain hot thru the entire risotto cooking process. Next, and here is where I like to use a good sized Le Creuset pot for cooking the risotto in, add a liberal dose of butter and cook a diced onion and shallot till they are not quite brown. Then add a good amount of olive oil to that, along with 2 cups of Arborio rice. Coat the rice with the butter and oil mixture, and sauté for a minute or two to cook through, but don’t brown the rice. All of the above is done over medium heat, but stove tops vary greatly, so adjust accordingly.
Now the liquids begin. Add one cup of white wine to the mixture. I like to use a white that we will be serving with the meal. Stir rice till the wine is absorbed. The depth of flavor the wine adds to the finished product is really noticeable.
Now the waiting hot stock takes center stage. Add one cup of stock to the mixture, stirring till the stock is fully absorbed. What holds many folks back about making risotto is there is a good amount of stirring involved. A constant stir is not necessary, but pretty close. This is where the white wine you opened comes in quite nicely. Sipping a little white wine during the risotto making process is a personal favorite–it is my break from stirring. Continue adding the hot stock one cup at a time, and the rice will become creamier as you go, as it releases the natural starches. Add the 7th cup of stock. At this point, you will be about 20 to 25 minutes into the rice cooking process. You are almost there.
Now add the bag of peas. It does not need to be completely unfrozen as the peas will defrost the moment they hit the hot rice. Stir. Now add the waiting asparagus pieces on the waiting sheet pan. Add a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Stir. Turn off the heat. Add another cup of stock. Stir. Add a dusting of salt & fresh ground black pepper. Stir. Put on the lid. Let sit for 5 minutes, have another sip of your white wine, as we are almost done. Once that 5 minutes has passed, give it one last stir, adding a bit more stock so it is nice and creamy. In a bowl add the risotto mixture, then add the asparagus tops to each bowl and finally a few sprinkles of the grated Parmesan. A bit of work, but that will all fade away when you have your first bite.