These days you can find asparagus in the market all year round but, for me, they signify Spring. This most noble of Spring vegetables can be made in an infinite variety of ways but perhaps my favorite is as a risotto. I like the flavor of asparagus so much that my preferred way to make Asparagus Risotto is entirely vegetarian, using the asparagus itself to make the broth.
To cook the asparagus:
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery
- A spring of fresh parsley
- 1 bunch of asparagus
For the risotto:
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 300-500g (3/4-1 lb) rice for risotto
- Butter and/or olive oil
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
Make a kind of vegetarian broth beginning with the usual aromatics—onion, carrot, celery and parsley—and after say 15 minutes of cooking, adding your asparagus—skipping the other vegetables. Cook for only 5 minutes or so and fish the asparagus out of the simmering broth. Cut the asparagus into three parts: the fibrous bottom third goes back into the pot, to continue cooking and lending its flavor to the broth. The middle third gets chopped up, and the tips are held back as a garnish.
Then you make the risotto in the usual way (see this post) beginning with your onion soffritto sweated in butter (or butter and oil) then add the chopped asparagus and allow it to insaporire for a few minutes. Then proceed as usual, using your asparagus broth instead of meat broth. When serving, I like to top each serving with a few asparagus tips which, if you like, you can sauté in butter beforehand.
And that’s it—simple but very elegant.
You can make Asparagus Risotto with either thick or thin asparagus. The thick variety needs to be peeled; the thin kind can be used as is. And, as noted above, don’t trim off the bottom as you would normally do for other dishes—use it for the broth! I have not tried white asparagus for risotto, but I’m sure it’s also very good.
Of course, you can—and people usually do—make Asparagus Risotto with meat broth, in which case I still like to simmer the asparagus in the broth for a few minutes before beginning the risotto itself. But to save time, you can add just the fibrous base of the asparagus to the broth and add the rest raw to the risotto itself. The result will still be quite good, but with a less intense asparagus flavor.
Some recipes for Asparagus Risotto call for cooking the asparagus until fully tender, then puréeing it before adding to the risotto—a few minutes before it’s done. I’ve not tried this technique, but it does sound good.
Although unorthodox and perhaps not very Italian, I sometimes add a bit of cream along with the parmesan cheese during the final mantecatura.