Oh yeah, remember how a chunk of this blog is supposed to be dedicated to food? Yeah, apparently I forgot too. Well, that’s not totally true. I work five evenings/nights a week, and it just so happens that in the last few weeks, my two nights off have meant either going out for dinner or L cooking, and although I like cooking, I’m certainly not complaining about that. Anyway, asparagus are in season, and that is pretty much impossible to resist, so I put my foot down this week and said I was going to cook.
There are lots of delicious ways to eat asparagus, but one of my favourites is risotto. When I was home in the evenings more often, risotto was one of my go-to meals because, once you get comfortable with it, you realize how easy it is. Truly, risotto is not difficult, but it does require a little attention and comfort with free-form cooking. Once you get the basics, though, you can make it with just about anything, which is another plus, since it will carry you through the various local growing seasons without any trouble.
Anyway, here’s how I do it – this isn’t a typical recipe because, as I said, it’s kind of free-form, but I have numbered the steps and bolded the ingredients.
Asparagus Risotto (this will serve two or three as a meal, increase rice, etc. for more people)
1. In a saucepan, heat up some vegetable stock (well, if you eat meat, chicken stock is fine too). I try to keep some homemade stock on hand for this sort of thing, but if you don’t have any, the boxed stock from the grocery store is a good second. If you need to use bouillon cubes, in a pinch, that’s okay; I would use slightly less than recommended, though, because cubes tend to be more salty than other options. You will need slightly more than twice as many cups of stock as you use rice. So, for 1.5 cups of rice, heat up 3-4 cups of stock.
2. In a wok or high-sided frying pan, melt 1-2 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat. Add a little olive oil to keep the butter from burning and add a finely-diced onion. Cook for five minutes or so, until the onion is soft and translucent. Add three or so cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until you can smell the garlic, another two or three minutes.
3. Add 1.5 cups of arborio rice (yes, there are other risotto rices, but they’re generally more expensive and more difficult to find; arborio is fairly ubiquitous now – basmati or other similar rice will not work, so don’t bother). If the pan seems a little dry, add a bit more butter and toss the rice with the onion and garlic until it is well coated. Let it toast for a minute or two.
4. If you have some white wine kicking around, this is a good time to add a half cup. If not, don’t worry. Using a ladle, add enough stock to cover the rice/onion/garlic (about a cup). Let it bubble down to a simmer and give it a good stir. The more you stir, the creamier the risotto, so don’t shirk on the stirring. This is a good time to get the asparagus ready (by which I mean, wash it, snap off the ends, chop it into bite-sized pieces, and set aside).
5. When the liquid starts to diminish and the mixture starts to thicken, add more stock, adding it by about a ladleful at a time and remembering to stir. The idea is that by slowly cooking it, the rice will take on the flavours in the stock and release its starch into the liquid, thus creating a yummy, creamy meal. Adding stock by the ladleful allows you to control the amount of liquid in the pan, so you don’t end up with a really liquidy mess at the end.
6. Grate some cheese. With asparagus I like an extra-old white cheddar, but it’s up to you. I usually grate about 1 cup.
7. After you’ve added two or three ladlefuls of stock, taste the risotto. You’re mostly interested in its texture. It’ll start out hard and kind of crunchy, but when it gets to the point that it’s soft enough to eat, but undercooked enough to still feel a little grainy on your teeth, add a half ladleful of stock and the asparagus. Keep stirring and tasting. (Adding the asparagus late means it won’t overcook.)
8. When the liquid has receded, taste it again. If the rice isn’t soft all the way through, add a little bit more stock; if it is, add the cheese. Turn the heat down a little and stir the cheese through so it melts into everything. If it seems a bit liquidy, let it cook a little longer (but not too long, or the rice will overcook!). Bear in mind that the cheese will solidify a little as it cools on the plate.
9. Season with salt and pepper and serve!
This method will work for any risotto. Some veggies you may want to prepare beforehand (like roasting a squash) but by and large, you add them at the same time and pair them with a cheese you like.
Are you already a risotto fan? What are you favourite pairings?