Making risotto invokes cooking tips I’ve come across that sound like life aphorisms, from the practical “Your risotto is only as good as your broth.” to the lofty “Time and loving patience create the creamiest bowl.” to the cautionary “Never turn your back on a bubbling pot.”
I don’t make risotto often, so when I have all the right elements for a perfect one: a mound of fresh asparagus, fresh herbs and green onions from my little garden, a delectable lemony vegetable broth, and my favorite Carnaroli rice— I am ready to slip into a meditative mode and stir up a big loving batch.
Have you ever used Carnaroli rice? Its grain is longer than Arborio, and has a higher starch content. Firmer too–It retains its shape better, and yet yields a marvelous creamy texture. The Italians call it “superfino” and the king of rice.
I found this bag in an unexpected place–the gourmet food shelf at a TJ Maxx discount store. There, you can usually count on an assortment of vinegars, preserves, and olive oils at a savings, but a bag of Carnaroli? A lucky-lucky find.
With the bounty of local asparagus arriving at our markets, making an asparagus-rich risotto is not only irresistible, it is also easy. I like to load it with a couple of bundles, and use the entire spear.
Nothing is wasted. The woody ends go into the vegetable broth. The middle section is chopped small, and sauteed into the risotto’s foundation. The delectable tips are saved for last—stirred in during the last ten minutes of cooking to retain a nice tender-crisp green.
I prefer a vegetable broth to chicken. It brings a lighter touch ( and zero fat content!) that truly enhances the springtime ingredients. And, unlike chicken or meat based broths which benefit from long-slow cooking, you can make a lively veggie broth in thirty minutes. ( Any more time, and it can go bitter.) Lemon juice and strips of zest lend a pleasant tartness that marries well with the asparagus.
The risotto itself doesn’t take as long as you might think to make. From the time the rice gets stirred in with the onions and asparagus, the process entails thirty minutes. With its heavy enameled cast-iron, my Le Creuset Dutch oven works well on low-to-medium heat, insuring a creamy-not-sticky risotto.
At around the twenty-minute mark, I add the asparagus tips. They will finish cooking, retaining nice bite, in the remaining ten minutes.
And, it does not require constant stirring. Oh, I keep up with the process, pour in the sumptuous broth, paddle the thickening rice to coax out that starch. It’s a zen thing to watch the grains become plump.
But I have been known to turn my back on it, just for a moment or two, to monitor the busy finch-feeder in my backyard. A new addition to the shade garden, it has drawn a remarkable number of brilliant yellow and purple finches, a migrating rose-chested grosbeak and some feisty chickadees.
2 lbs. fresh Asparagus: stems removed and set aside for broth, tips cut and set aside for later incorporation in the risotto, remaining center section of the spear chopped small
1 bundle Scallions, chopped
2 Tablespoons Butter (can use good olive oil)
Salt and Black Pepper
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio Rice
8 cups Lemony Vegetable Broth (see recipe below)
a few shavings of Romano cheese (optional)
Melt butter in a deep saucepan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Sprinkle in salt and black pepper. Saute chopped onions and asparagus spears for about 5 minutes.
Add rice, and stir well, coating all the grains. Pour in 2 cups of broth and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Pour in another cup of broth and stir. Continue this process–about 20 minutes, add broth and stir, add broth and stir. Gradually the rice will plump and get glossy and a creamy soup will begin to form.
Stir in the Asparagus tips that had been set aside along with more broth and cook for another 10 minutes.
Pour into bowls. Top with a few shavings of romano cheese, a few grindings of salt and pepper, garnish of chopped chives or parsley, and serve.
LEMONY VEGETABLE BROTH
Peel and Juice of 1 Lemon
3 Carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
Asparagus stems (see above)
10 cups Water
Salt and Black Pepper
Bouquet Garni: parsley, dill, thyme
Place all the vegetables and herbs into a stockpot and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a rolling simmer. Simmer for no longer than 30 minutes. Strain vegetables from broth, squeeze out any remaining juices, and toss. Have pot of vegetable broth ready to cup into the risotto.