Monday, 6 June 2011

Asparagus and Herb Risotto

"if my memory serves me right, the stupid name of this blog has its origins in a trip to Borough Market and the purchase of some new season's asparagus"
I’m planning at least a couple of posts over the next few days as I’ve done quite a bit of cooking recently - having taken a new job seems to have freed up a lot of time that had been previously spent scouring the internet and on the phone to recruiters. Also it seems a good idea to get a few posts in before I'm tied to a desk for 12 hours a day, and have to make do with a cellophane wrapped sarnie for lunch and microwaved tikka masala for dinner. Ok, so that scenario is pretty unlikely for a food snob like me, but you get the drift. I suppose another way to look at my return to work is as a true test of my culinary credentials and principles; will I sacrifice them in favour of a cheap eat or maintain my self imposed, middle class, foodie values...?

To start with I have a recipe for an asparagus and herb risotto. I know that I wrote about asparagus a couple of weeks ago, but it only has a short season, so it's a good idea to make hay while the sun shines. Also, if my memory serves me right, the stupid name of this blog has its origins in a trip to Borough Market and the purchase of some new season's asparagus. So it is only right that I should pay homage to this princely vegetable. I made this particular dish the other night as we had some asparagus that had inadvertently gotten lost amidst the forest of leafy greens, cucumber and peppers at the bottom of the fridge and was a little past its best, therefore a risotto seemed a good way to make the most of it.

One of the foundations of a good risotto is a good quality stock, usually chicken. However, I went to the freezer, only to find fish and game stock (I’m sure this is a problem most of you will also face on a daily basis!), and so decided to make a vegetable stock to use instead. This was very easily done; I used the trimmings from the asparagus, a couple of sticks of celery, an onion and a few peppercorns, which I softened for 10 or so minutes in some olive oil and butter, covered with water, brought to the boil, and then simmered for 30-40 mins. This isn’t as good as using a properly made and well flavoured chicken stock, but as an impromptu alternative it did the trick.

Asparagus and Herb Risotto:

(Serves 4)

250g risotto rice
400g asparagus (i.e. a couple of small, or one large bundle from the greengrocer / supermarket), trimmed and roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
Small handful of parsley, mint and basil (or whatever green and leafy herbs you fancy), finely chopped
Splash of white wine (optional)
Approx 1.5l stock (vegetable or chicken)
25g butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the mantecatura:

50g butter
Handful grated parmesan

  1. I’ve read that when you chop the onion for a risotto you should try to make the pieces the same size as the grains of rice! After you have managed (or not) this feat of chopping, melt the butter in a large saucepan, adding a splash of olive oil along the way, and when the butter is foaming add the onion, half the herbs and soften for 5-7 mins.
  2. When the onion is translucent add the rice, give it a good stir and then cook for a couple of minutes – this is called toasting the rice.
  3. Now add the splash of wine (if using) and give it a good stir. When most of the wine has been absorbed by the rice you can then add the asparagus and give it another stir.
  4. Now start to add the hot veg/chicken stock, a ladleful at a time, constantly stirring. You should only start to add more stock once the previous lot has been absorbed by the rice.
  5. As this process continues you will notice the risotto start to change and take on a much more creamy appearance. Start tasting the risotto here to check for seasoning etc.
  6. The rice should be cooked by the time you have added most of the stock. Ideally it should retain some bite, so try not to overcook it, and the overall texture of the risotto should still be fairly fluid.
  7. When it is cooked you are now ready for what the Italians call the mantecatura, this is the all important process that will transform your risotto from 2nd Division to Premier League. It is simple enough, but can be overlooked in one’s eagerness to eat. All you have to do is take the risotto off the heat and beat in the butter, cubed and straight from the fridge, and grated parmesan with a wooden spoon. This adds flavour to the dish and also alters the texture, making it creamier and adding a bit of a sheen. I have a fantastic cookbook by Giorgio Locatelli called Made In Italy, which looks like a bit of a coffee table book, but is by far the best collection of Italian recipes I have come across. In it, Giorgio devotes a couple of pages of prose to the mantecatura, and its all important effect on your risotto. So you don’t just have to take my word on the subject!
  8. Now you can check again the seasoning of the risotto and add more salt and pepper if required. Finally add the remaining chopped herbs, which should have wilted in the hot risotto by the time you serve it up.
  9. Mangiare.
Stage 4, just starting to add the stock
Stage 5, note the change in texture and colour

Served with another sprinkle of parmesan

I mentioned some wine matches for asparagus dishes in a previous post (here), but I’ve read a couple of articles recently about an Italian grape variety called Falanghina which I hadn’t actually heard of before. From what I’ve read it could be worth searching out and trying a couple of bottles, and I plan to do just that (see article in Telegraph here).

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