Wild Asparagus, Saffron and Lemon Risotto
Risotto is always a wonderful affair, and is frankly an expression of love towards your guests, as it does entail 25-30 minutes or so of standing at the stove and stirring... and stirring... and stirring! Oh, of course I am being silly and trying to get a smile out of you, but it is one of those dishes that needs to be prepared with care- but that is all the more worth the effort when it is as wonderful a dish as this was!
I picked up a wonderful bunch of this skinny, delicious, wild green asparagus yesterday and being a single household, of course, had easily enough there to make 3 meals with- with one more to come in the morning! I also had the other half of a beautiful, giant Cedra lemon... and so the combination in this evenings risotto, was almost inevitable. And combined with delicate saffron and Parmesan cheese- well the result was incredible! Want to know how I made it? Well, pull up a chair and read on!
I prepared this in a variation on the theme of a classic risotto alla Milanese- so the first thing I needed to do was to bring my chicken broth up to the boil. I happened to have some left over and frozen, but if not- open a can, dissolve a soup cube or some powdered stock... or if you feel the need- boil some up fresh! I hate to be one to dictate, point fingers, or get on a high horse about this kind of thing. Fresh is best- the rest will do just fine. If you want to live in a fantasy world where all Italians always make their pasta fresh for every meal and boil up their stocks and sauces for every meal too... fine! I have other things to do... and risotto to make!
So- the stock was bubbling away. In another saucepan, I dissolved a little butter and added some chopped onion and a hint of garlic, a couple of slices of lemon peel, stirred it until the onion became transparent and then added the rice, until it became lightly coated and shiny. I then deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine and then added a ladle full of broth and stirred it in until the onion and rice were covered. I added a pinch of saffron, a little salt, pepper, nutmeg and yes, a little pinch of sugar and continued adding broth and stirring, a little at a time- you know the routine!
After about 15 minutes of cooking time, I added the bottom parts of the asparagus stalks, which I had chopped into bite-sized pieces... I had reserved a few longer spears and the tips to garnish with later. I stirred in the asparagus and continued cooking and stirring for a further 5 minutes- it really doesn't take long to cook and if you add it too early, it will lose it's lovely vibrant green color and become too soft- which would be a real shame!
5 minutes later, I added a good handful of parmesan cheese, and a last good ladle full of broth, stirred it in well and let it sit for a further 5 minutes. In that time, I quickly sautéed the asparagus stalks for 2-3 minutes in a little butter, then added the stalks and gave them a minute more. I added a tiny splash of wine, salt, pepper, a hint of sugar and let the wine evaporate away and the butter give everything a nice glaze... and then I was ready to serve!
I made sure to fish out the pieces of lemon peel and spooned up the risotto, scattered it with the asparagus tips and then draped the asparagus stalks over the top. A generous sprinkle of parmesan, a pinch of coarsely ground black pepper and a light sprinkle of blanched lemon zest and dinner was served! And I have to say- with this dish it finally did feel like Springtime had arrived! Hope you all enjoy it too!