Risotto agli asparagi (Asparagus Risotto)

Frankprimi piatti, Risotto and Other Rice Dishes, Spring33 Comments

Risotto agli asparagi (Asparagus Risotto)

These days you can find asparagus in the market all year round but, for me, they signify Spring. I enjoy preparing this most noble and toothsome of Spring vegetables all sorts of ways: simply dressed with oil and lemon as an antipasto or side dish, puréed for dressing pasta or filling a lasagna as a first course, in a frittata or topped with a fried egg in the Milanese manner, which could serve as a light main course…

But perhaps my favorite way to enjoy asparagus is in a risotto. My method for making risotto agli asparagi involves using the asparagus three different ways to take full advantage of its lovely flavor. The woody bottoms of the asparagus, which you’d otherwise throw away, simmer in water along with aromatics to make a vegetarian broth for cooking the rice. The tender tips are blanched then sautéed in butter for the garnish. The rest gets chopped up for cooking along with the rice itself. And when I’m feeling extravagant, I add a nice chunk of soft cheese like a robiola or taleggio for stirring into the rice at the end along with the usual grated parmigiano-reggiano.

Granted, this method is a bit more involved than the typical risotto, but for asparagus lovers like myself, there’s no better way to enjoy its unique taste. It’s spring on a plate, as they say. And now’s a good time to enjoy it, while spring is still with us.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 500g/1 lb), trimmed and (if thick) peeled

For the broth:

  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery
  •  A spring or two of fresh parsley
  • The bottom thirds of the asparagus stalks and their peelings
  • 1 liter (4 cups) water
  • Salt

For simmering the risotto:

  • 1 shallot (or onion), finely chopped
  • 300-500g (3/4-1 lb) rice for risotto
  • White wine
  • Butter and/or olive oil

For the mantecatura:

  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 50g (2 oz) mild, soft cheese such as robiola or taleggio

Directions

Prepping the asparagus

Start by trimming your asparagus. Cut each stalk into three parts, cut off the woody bottom third and then the tender tips like so:

Asparagus

Then take the middles, peel them if needed and cut them into small rounds.

Making the broth and blanching the asparagus tips

Simmer the asparagus bottoms and any peelings, along with onion, carrot, celery and parsley, in water for 15-20 minutes or so, until the broth has acquired a rich flavor. Strain out the vegetables.

Once the broth is done, blanche the asparagus tips in the broth for just 2-3 minutes until just crisp-tender. Remove and set them aside.

Making the risotto

Now make your risotto in the usual way (see this post for details). You begin by sweating the onion in butter (or butter and oil) in a large pot. Once the onion is soft and translucent, add the asparagus rounds and sauté them gently so they absorb the flavor of the onion-scented butter.

Then add the rice and let it toast until it turns a chalky white color and begins to “crackle”. Add a splash of white wine to the pot, stir and let the wine evaporate completely.

Then proceed as usual, adding the asparagus broth one ladleful at a time, stirring it into the rice and letting it absorb the broth before adding another ladleful, until the rice is al dente. If you run out of broth, continue with water. This process usually takes about 20 minutes.

While the risotto is cooking, melt a good knob of butter in a skillet and add the asparagus tips. Sauté them over moderate heat for a few minutes, until fully tender, then set aside.

When your rice is done, take it off heat. Add the parmigiano-reggiano and, if using, a nice chunk of the soft cheese. Stir vigorously until the cheese has melted into the rice and the risotto is nice and creamy, perhaps about a minute or so.

Serve immediately, with a few of the aspargus tips on each plate for garnish.

Risotto agli asparagi (Asparagus Risotto)

Notes on Risotto agli asparagi

Admittedly, turning out a proper risotto is not particularly easy. There are lots of nuances to it. A false move and you can wind up with gooey mush or, at the other extreme, thin gruel studded with chalky grains of rice. For the full lowdown see our post Risotto: The Basic Recipe. It’s a step by step guide that walks you through each stage of the process, tips and tricks, and recommendation on the best types of rice for risotto.

You can make risotto agli asparagi with either thick or thin asparagus. For this particular method, however, thicker asparagus may actually be preferable. The thick variety needs to be peeled; the thin kind can be used as is. I have not tried white asparagus in 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 that case I still like to simmer the asparagus bottoms in the broth for a few minutes to give it some extra asparagus flavor. The result will still be quite good, for some even better, but it will strike a less purely asparagus note.

Variations

Some recipes for risotto agli asparagi call for cooking the asparagus separately until fully tender, then puréeing it before adding it to the rice just a few minutes before it’s done. That’s another way to infuse your risotto with maximum asparagus flavor while adding a certain extra creaminess to the dish. In many if not most recipes, the tips are added to the simmering rice, sometimes precooked and sometimes not, towards the end of cooking rather than being reserved for garnish.

It’s not unusual to see carnivorous variations of risotto agli asparagi where you add cured pork—pancetta, prosciutto, sausage or, best of all in my book, Speck—to the onion when making the soffritto or flavor base. An equally delicious pescatarian variation has you add shrimp, this time towards the end of cooking, along with the tips. As I’ve done with the asparagus tips here, you can garnish the risotto with a few shrimp you’ve held back and sautéed separately. In these cases you’d call your dish a risotto agli asparagi e Speck, risotto agli asparagi e gamberi, or what have you.

Pressure cooking risotto

Truth be told, these days most of the time I make risotto the lazy way, in a pressure cooker. Once you have toasted your rice and evaporated the white wine, you add the broth all in one go (twice the amount of rice by volume), then close the lid. My electric pressure cooker has an automatic risotto setting, which turns out a very fine risotto every time. If you are using a cooktop pressure cooker, set it to medium pressure for about 6-7 minutes, then release the pressure quickly. The rice should be perfectly al dente. If not, you can let it simmer for a few more minutes, adding broth or water if need. Then proceed to final mantecatura stage, adding the cheese and stirring vigorously before serving.

Risotto agli asparagi

Asparagus Risotto
Total Time1 hr
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: braised, rice, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch 1 bunch asparagus (about 500g/1 lb) trimmed and (if thick) peeled

For the broth

  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery 
  • A spring or two of fresh parsley
  • The bottom thirds of the asparagus stalks and their peelings
  • 1 liter 4 cup water
  • salt

For simering the risotto

  • 1 shallot (or small onion) finely chopped
  • 300-500g 3/4-1 lb rice for risotto
  • White wine
  • Butter and/or olive oil

Instructions

Prepping the asparagus.

  • Cut each stalk into three parts, cut off the woody bottom third and then the tender tips.
  • Take the middles, peel them if needed and cut them into small rounds

Making the broth and blanching the asparagus tips

  • Simmer the asparagus bottoms and any peelings, along with onion, carrot, celery and parsley, in water for 15-20 minutes or so, until the broth has acquired a rich flavor. Strain out the vegetables.
  • Once the broth is done, blanche the asparagus tips in the broth for just 2-3 minutes until just crisp-tender. Remove and set them aside.

Making the risotto

  • Sweat the onion in butter (or butter and oil) in a large pot. Once the onion is soft and translucent, add the asparagus rounds and sauté them gently so they absorb the flavor of the onion-scented butter.
  • Add the rice and let it toast until it turns a chalky white color and begins to "crackle". Add a splash of white wine to the pot, stir and let the wine evaporate completely.
  • Add the asparagus broth one ladleful at a time, stirring it into the rice and letting it absorb the broth before adding another ladleful, until the rice is al dente. If you run out of broth, continue with water. This process usually takes about 20 minutes.
  • While the risotto is cooking, melt a good knob of butter in a skillet and add the asparagus tips. Sauté them over moderate heat for a few minutes, until fully tender, then set aside.
  • When your rice is done, take it off heat. Add the parmigiano-reggiano and, if using, a nice chunk of the soft cheese. Stir vigorously until the cheese has melted into the rice and the risotto is nice and creamy, perhaps about a minute or so.
  • Serve immediately, with a few of the aspargus tips on each plate for garnish.

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33 Comments on “Risotto agli asparagi (Asparagus Risotto)”

  1. Frank — We made this last night and it was just fantastic! I really liked how the little slices of asparagus maintained great texture through the 15-18 minutes of stirring in broth. I just assumed they would disintegrate. Definitely something we will make each year in asparagus season. Thanks!

  2. Ah, I absolutely love risotto! We don’t make it all that often here for the very reason you mention – you tend to have to babysit it a bit. But it’s so worth the time! And I really like that idea of using the woody stems of the asparagus to make a stock. What a fun idea to coax extra flavor out of that asparagus!!

    1. Thanks, David! And I agree it’s worth the effort. And if you “cheat” like me and use a pressure cooker, it’s not even that much effort!

  3. That’s exactly what I think about asparagus! Even though it’s available all year round, there’s nothing better than the one you can get around May. Beautiful risotto and so many great ideas on different variations.

    1. I have tried and I agree it’s very nice. As mentioned in the notes, it’s a fine variation indeed. Although personally I enjoy Speck even more.

  4. Love asparagus ! Love risotto and the making of it ! Do I remember putting the two together . . . I don’t think so. Frustrated at our seasons at the moment looking at all the wonderful ideas for the vegetable being posted in the Northern Hemisphere . . . our first stalks appear in the stores late August. A simple recipe I’ll certainly copy tho’ may have to choose efferent cheese here in the country . . . nice to plan ahead . . .

    1. It is a funny thing about how seasons are reversed from one hemisphere to another, isn’t it? I have the same feelings when I read my favorite blogger from Australia.

  5. I’m the same as David. I’ve created broth using the base of the asparagus, but only to enhance asparagus soup. Love this idea for risotto!

  6. This doesn’t seem like much work at all! Mark and I were both completely intrigued by the use of the asparagus stems in the broth. While I use asparagus broth for asparagus soup, it never occurred to me to use it for Risotto. We will be trying this during the week! I so wish we could get the real robiola here in Tucson. I know Eataly carries it, but it’s really impossible to ship. Taleggio will have to do!

  7. I like that broth, a lot. Terrific flavor, I’ll bet. Liking the whole dish as well — and one that for some reason I never make (I make risotto, just not with asparagus for some reason). I need to make this before asparagus season is over! Thanks.

  8. Delicious! My farmer will have freshly picked asparagus tomorrow – I don’t need an excuse to buy it, but he offers a discount for two bunches, so I know what I’ll be eating for supper!

  9. Dear Frank!
    Greetings!
    As you aptly said this is Spring and asparaguses are coming!
    Great risotto, indeed!
    The vegetarian approach is probably the best as it will accentuate the asparagus taste!
    Thanks for sharng!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  10. Frank,

    On day soon, I hope to visit your Italy. Your food always look so inviting that I hope I might join you at table to taste the goodness I see.

    Lovely Sunday my friend,

    Theresa

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