Monday, 25 April 2011

Desperately Feeding Susan

Risotto al Limone con Asparagi Verde
Lemon Risotto with Green Asparagus

So I was chatting with my sister-in-law on the phone the other night, who was telling me how much she liked my blog and how nice the recipes and photos were... and all was well in the world. It's nice having fans!

And then she says to me "couldn't you come up for a nice dish for my birthday?". Great. It's a bank holiday over here, the stores are closed... and I have next to nothing in the fridge. Of course I could have simply let it pass, being in another country and all... it is not as if she really expected anything.

But, being fearless in the kitchen and never one to back down from a challenge...
So, Susan- I dedicate this to you!

There's no need for me to start re-inventing the wheel when it comes to risotto I hope. You know the basics: arborio rice, butter, white wine and a good broth. But with a few small changes I made this into something a bit more elegant and cool. I know this is a cheap excuse for a Birthday present: thinking up a recipe- but let me act as if it is more special, ok? It makes me feel better about myself and less cheap...

I wanted to make this into something more Summery and decided that lemon and asparagus would be a lovely combination. I also had nothing else in the fridge. To my vegetarian fans out there- rejoice that I didn't have any pancetta... because that would have been awesome in here!

I started out with finely chopped spring onion, chopped celery and butter and once they were nice and soft I added the rice. I let this get coated in the butter and added a sprinkle of saffron and then de glazed the pan with a splash of white wine. Susan- if you decide to try this- use a nice, chilled, sparkling wine. It's fun the way it all froths up- and then you can finish off the rest whilst you stir the rice. For everybody else- just use a regular white wine, like I did. Once the wine had completely evaporated away, I added some finely chopped rosemary, green asparagus cut into diagonal slices and some crushed garlic. I decided to use a vegetable broth for this, but chicken would also be great. You know the rest- add a ladle full of broth and stir till it's absorbed and so-on until it is done... this is easy stuff.

So let me tell you about the prep-work that goes into making this dish special.

The lemon flavor came purely from the peel. I didn't want this to end up tasting sour and the juice would have done that... so I cut the peel into strips and poured some boiling water on them. I let them sit for 3-4 minutes and then poured off the water, which had turned bright yellow and had most of the acid flavor in it. Then I popped them into a cup with a spoon full of sugar and coated them in boiling water again. This softens them up just enough to have some bite and takes away any left over acidity. All that is left is a fresh lemon flavor. Perfect.

The cherry tomatoes were simply cut in half, sprinkled with salt and pepper and popped under the broiler. After 10 mins or so, fetch them out, squash them down a little with a fork and sprinkle them with a little sugar. Pop them back in for another 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven, until they look toasty and the edges start to singe a little... that's all good flavor!

The asparagus stalks were simply halved and tossed in a pan with a little butter, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Time for some useless information to astound and bore your friends with. Everybody knows that when pasta is done and still has a little bite to it, they call it "al dente", right?
Because it is pleasing to yout teeth (dente) that you still have a little something to bite on and that the pasta has not overcooked. That is something that you DON'T want with your risotto! I see so many dishes that people CALL risotto, that are mounds of firm rice... I have even seen people turn it out of a bowl to serve it! And it just stands there like a rock! Oh PLEASE. That is just wrong and upsetting to any Italian. Risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth.

So this is the expression I want to teach you: Risotto is good when it is "al onda" as they say in Italy. No- that does not mean it is like a Japanese car. In Italian, the word for wave is onda. So what you want to do is to occasionally push back the rice with your spoon and take a look at the way it moves. When it gently flows around your spoon like a wave... slow and thick and creamy, that is when it is good. It depends on the rice you use (there are many types of arborio), but generally it will take between 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount you make, your rice, your stove, etc.

After about 15 mins cooking time I added the lemon peel. When the rice was close to being perfect, I added another pat of butter and a little salted ricotta cheese... this made it nice and creamy and after another 5 minutes it was ready to serve!

Along with the asparagus and tomatoes and a grinding of chili flakes this made a great Summer meal. It would also be an excellent side dish to chicken or fish.

Sorry I couldn't be there and make this for you today Susan.
But it made for a nice supper for ME!

In any case... Happy Birthday, many happy returns and buon apetito!


  1. A very nice and interesting recipe. It's alreday saved for to cook it soon :-)

  2. I'm glad you like it Margit- have fun making your own version and enjoy! Bon apetito!