It's technically spring, but it still sure feels a lot like winter. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to cook some asparagus. It seemed like the proper thing to do, to offer up this sign of spring. Secretly I was hoping Mother Nature will take some pity on us. If she saw us eating asparagus in this perfectly dreary weather, she would think, "this just won't do", and send some warmth and sunshine our way. Then, before you knew it, crocuses would be popping up everywhere and people would be walking about jacket-less.
A risotto seemed like the perfect way to combine comfort food with spring flair. Often I find people to associate risotto making with being a very laborious and painstaking task. As a result, they shy away from preparing it, and save it as something to order in a restaurant. Contrary to that belief, I think risotto is pretty easy. It's all in one pot, and I'm always fond of meals that don't produce a lot of dirty pans. The only seemingly tedious part is having to stand over it the entire time it's cooking, slowly adding broth and stirring. There is no room for multi-tasking here. You have to make sure your salad or whatever else you are serving it with is ready to go before you begin preparing the risotto.
The recipe I made called for fresh basil. Now that, I thought, was taking things a little far. This is something I associate strictly with mid to end of summer, and while I am feeling a bit desperate, and would do almost anything to bring about a sense of sundress-wearing weather, using fresh basil in April is not one of them. I do think it would be a nice addition to this dish though.
Risotto with Asparagus and Peas
4 cups vegetable stock (No-chicken broth is a good one to use)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter (I use Earth Balance which is non-dairy)
1 tblsp olive oil
8 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
1/3 cup white wine
12 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup fresh or frozen shelled peas
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (always use organic lemons when zesting)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Put the stock in a saucepan. Heat until almost boiling, then reduce the heat until barely simmering to keep it hot.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened but not browned.
3. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are well coated and glistening, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir until it has been completely absorbed.
4. Add 1 ladle of hot stock and simmer, stirring until it has been absorbed. Keep repeating this. After 10 minutes, add the asparagus, peas and lemon zest and mix well. Continue to add the stock at intervals and cook as before, for 8-10 more minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but firm (al dente). (I usually find that I need more than the amount of stock than the recipe calls for. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong but it's good to have extra on hand, just in case. You can always heat up some water and use that if you get stuck without extra broth, yet your rice is not quite cooked enough.)
5. Add the Parmesan, salt, pepper and a handful of torn up basil leaves, if you are using. Mix well. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for 2 minutes.