I cuss, you cuss, we all cuss for asparagus.
– The Far Side
I rode home today from work on my bike absolutely thrilled with the spring but more like summer weather Toronto is having right now. I smelled flowering trees and shrubs and some stinky garbage, too. But hey, stinky garbage just means the weather is warm enough for it to smell like that. I’m grateful! I had a clear thought of ‘drink this in – this spring’. Yes, my thoughts are plagiarized from Anne Shirley. She would totally say something like that.
And then my stomach rumbled. What am I going to make for dinner? It’s glorious spring – why have I been on a steady diet of frozen pizzas for the last two weeks. I should be finding all that spring Ontario produce bounty at my favourite green grocers but I haven’t stepped foot into my favourite green grocers in weeks. Then I remembered that I picked up a bundle of Ontario asparagus from Loblaw’s. I will celebrate with that. I hope that little bundle of Loblaw’s asparagus doesn’t feel the pressure of my Must Have Spring Celebration. I would wilt under less stress than that.
That bundle of asparagus is all I had really to go on. That’s where risotto comes in handy. It’s really a pantry dish: Arborio rice, onion, olive oil, white wine (yes – a staple in my house), chicken or vegetable stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter. And like white wine, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a staple in this house, too. Yes, it’s a bit costly, but if you have it, a simple pasta (or risotto) becomes a proper meal with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. As my sister would say of something she finds out you don’t have when you should so obviously have: “It’s like not having shoes to wear.” This statement came when I told her I didn’t have a television set. And then she bought me a TV. And you should buy Parmigiano-Reggiano if you don’t already have some on the ready.
Asparagus risotto was my dinner. But don’t just stop at asparagus. Risotto is such a great base, you can add whatever you want to it. Dried porcini? Resurrect them with a bit of hot water and then add them and their liquid to the risotto. Butternut squash? Diced and roasted and then added to the risotto. Yum. Cauliflower and Leek is a great combo. Frozen peas make a good standby dinner of sweat pea risotto. I could keep going, but I think you got it.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small or half a medium onion, small dice
1 cup Arborio rice
1 bundle or bunch asparagus
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (don’t be stingy)
Heat the stock in a small pot on the stove until boiling. Turn down to low and keep it warm while you make the risotto. I have 5 cups listed in the ingredients. You might need less. But it’s a good idea to prep for having more than having less than you need.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium low to medium heat. Add diced onions. Do not let these colour. Stirring occasionally, let them soften and become translucent. This should take about five minutes. Toss in the Arborio rice and stir to coat it in the olive oil. Stir constantly for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add a small glass of wine to the pan. It will sizzle. Pour yourself a glass, too. But larger.
Stir the rice until the wine evaporates completely. Add a cup of the stock. Stir. With risotto you don’t need to keep stirring constantly. You need to stir frequently. That means you can step away for a minute or two at a time and then come back to continue stirring. When the first cup of stock is almost evaporated, add another ½ cup. Again, stir and stir frequently. Once that is almost evaporated, add another ½ cup. You’re about half way through adding your stock. You can now add the asparagus if you want to. I wanted my asparagus more cooked through than al dente. If you want the asparagus more al dente then add it maybe after the next addition of stock. After the asparagus went in, I added 1 ¾ cup more broth total but in increments (½ cup, then another ½ cup and then a final ¼ cup) as needed to the risotto, stirring after each addition and allowing that addition of broth to absorb into the rice. Once the rice was tender enough (taste it to see if it’s soft but has texture), I swirled in the generous tablespoon of butter. For the finale, I added a loose cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can check for salt, but the stock (if you’re using store bought) and the cheese have enough salt, you probably won’t need to add any.
Risotto shouldn’t have structure. When you plate it, it should ooze out onto the plate; it shouldn’t mound or stand up at all. Keep that in mind when adding stock. You want it to be a bit loose.
Viva la primavera!